The #metoo movement gained momentum this summer, and the entertainment world split itself apart in response. Men and women are on both sides of the issue, with the power of contracts, money, and relationships influencing interpretation. The dance world had its own reverberations, which, even with the resignation of Marcelo Gomes from American Ballet Theatre, yet kept things fairly quiet.

Alexandra Waterbury’s tragic experience and abuse from members of New York City Ballet thrust the dance world more fully under the lens. Two thoughts hover as I watch this unfold:

  1. Waterbury is exactly right when she says NYCB fostered a “fraternity house environment”. Why are people so shocked by that statement? Balanchine’s manipulation and control over dancers’ personal lives is well documented. His famous statement, “ballet is woman,” is not exactly empowering, although it is perceived by many as just that. If ballet is woman, and Balanchine the master, then where does that place women? In submission to a man who left multiple wives (one of whom had career-ending repercussions from Polio) for younger dancers, broke up other people’s marriages, and taunted dancers with roles and privileges in return for undying loyalty. Peter Martins physically assaulted his wife (a principal dancer in the company) years ago and somehow it was a “big misunderstanding” that did not affect his tenure at New York City Ballet whatsoever.
  2. Waterbury’s suit alleges that a high level donor was involved in her ex-boyfriend’s exploitation of her body (through photos and videos secretly recorded). The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines “Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
    1. Since a donor participated in Finlay’s digital subterfuge, does the content qualify as trafficking? Finlay provided sexually explicit material without Waterbury’s consent and the donor supported the ballet. Which came first, I do not know, but does it really matter? Services were provided at the exploitation of an individual, and funds were received by the ballet. This is why Waterbury asserts NYCB’s responsibility in the issue. It took place with members of the organization, at times on site.Act Means Purpose
      1. That donor’s gift is dirty money. What if NYCB took the amount given by the donor in question and gave that as a contribution to the Times Up fund or created a female choreographer initiative, etc.? Choosing to disregard affiliation with its donors makes the company complicit. They’ll take the money but they don’t want to know any details.
    2. Flesh and Bone is a graphic depiction of the inner workings of dance organizations and depicts how people with indirect positions of power (donors), find their way to manipulate and exploit artists. Companies want to keep donors happy and that is made abundantly clear to dancers, without necessarily specifying how that might be fulfilled. Years ago, a former member of NYCB’s administration told me that the company maximized access to dancers for donors as a perk.

The response of NYCB artists has been mixed. Certainly, this has been a tortuous year for the company. Obviously, NYCB’s PR machine keeps dancers very aware of how they represent the company. Again, the conflict of power – can a company dancer really feel free to express a personal opinion when his/her public persona is so tied to the organization accused and signing their paychecks? Ashley Bouder walked the fine line in her statement on Instagram, while Joaquin de Luz bemoaned the cost to periphery players on his IG without at all acknowledging the cost to the victim(s). Megan LeCrone offered a neither here nor there statement, simply acknowledging the current storm, which has been perceived as having more compassion for the aggressors than the victims. Both Amar Ramasar (one of the offending parties) and his girlfriend, company dancer Lexi Maxell, “liked” LeCrone’s post. Ramasar made his IG private, while Maxwell posted a photo of the two with a quote about “keeping one’s head held high.” Ramasar, a much loved dancer, created further controversy in continuing to perform in Carousel while Finlay and Zachary Catazaro seemingly disappeared from public engagements.

Although NYCB’s investigation of the situation resulted in suspensions for Ramasar and Catazaro and Finlay’s resignation, Finlay’s lawyer stated that the suit was “nothing more than allegations that should not be taken as fact”.

I’m still really angry. I’m angry that people get angry at the victims, that people think because they aren’t directly involved that it isn’t really a problem. I’m shocked and enraged that people find such truth telling inconvenient. I’m really amazed by how willing people are to avoid the troubles of reality.

NYCB has a huge opportunity – which is why Waterbury gave them the option to handle it prior to making the case public. Since the company is leader-less (aside from the four ballet masters appointed in lieu of a director for the interim) and obviously restructuring itself, why not lead the way for other dance organizations? Why not be the one to acknowledge years of sexist, misogynistic behavior, and abuse with the intent to transform the past into an equitable future? The company is currently working with choreographers making new pieces who know how to communicate about social justice, inequality, and abuse (Kyle Abraham, Emma Portner).  Time is up for NYCB; the company has had too many chances to change the treatment of women (and men). They can no longer feign ignorance. Members of #metoo exist within Lincoln Center’s ivory tower and Waterbury (as well as Martins’ accusers) are showing them how to let down their hair to climb out of captivity.

static1.squarespace.pngHi friends!

Join me Saturday, August 11th at 9:30am for Reformer I at Well Body EAST.

Come early to find parking as the Tomato Fest 5k goes right by our building! Beginner level Reformer is great for post-race body care or if you need to squeeze in your me-time before hitting up the Festival. Well Body will also have a booth on 12th between Woodland and Holly. See you there!

Each year, I post a reflection on April 16th at Virginia Tech. Each year, I have new revelation and steps towards healing. This year was no different.

Last year’s tenth anniversary was hard, weird, and as always, sacred. Ten years since I graduated from Virginia Tech, ten years-ish since I ended a significant relationship that radically changed the trajectory of my life, ten years that my friends and I have been spread all over the world – but always closely connected in the comfort that someone else “knows” my experience.

My life took an interesting turn last year. I left a really good job that unfortunately made me miserable personally. I gained fifty pounds. I ended up living with my parents while they sold their home of 28 years. I decided to FINALLY get my Pilates certification. I did Whole30 with a friend and realized that this entire year has been an emotional/spiritual Whole30. All the things I held as part of my identity – job, lifestyle, physique, and independence – are gone. It is really humbling to watch each layer be peeled off. It is also incredibly liberating to uncover the brave little person deep down underneath all the labels it got assigned. I feel like a flower someone planted and forgot to mark. I just have to wait to see what comes up and not decide in advance what it will be or let anyone else decide what it is without really “knowing”. In the mean time, I need to water, nurture, and protect that seed for it to burst forth in the magnificence that is springtime.

So, this year on April 16th, it was a Monday morning – just like in 2007. It was the same indecisive weather; sort of sunny, sort of cloudy, sort of rainy. Since I was already in Blacksburg, it wasn’t the big to-do like it usually is to find a Hokie in whatever city I’d been living to hang out or drive home. I was surrounded by people who “knew” and a lot of people who didn’t “know”, but knew that it was important to “know” as much as they could.

The library curated an exhibit, so I walked over. By each victim’s portrait, librarians curated books related to their fields of interest. It brought each person’s personality and passion to the present – you could imagine them reading these books, or doing the things in them. More photos from the day were displayed; it was like walking through that week all over again. It is funny the things that I need help remembering; it isn’t that I forgot, it is just that there so many things about that time, it all gets jumbled up. A quote from a favorite dance-theater work on Edgar Allan Poe, Red-eye to Havre de grace came to mind, “I (or we) must be remembering it differently.” There is dimension to our memories, and sometimes they take on a life of their own.

There were a few response boards, with prompts like: How would you present the story of April 16, 2007 for Virginia Tech’s 150th anniversary in 2022? How did this exhibit make you feel? I saw the words of others who “knew” even though we didn’t know each other. That is the weird, comforting part of this – thousands of people “know” and share my story, people I may never meet.

Spring semester in 2007 was purely piecemeal. Some were already done with finals, some had odds and ends to finish, some just couldn’t finish, and some found catharsis returning to a classroom. One of my teachers asked those of us returning to class – she called me personally to ask how I was doing – to share creative reflections. One classmate wrote a poem about the killer. They were in the same major, and she spent the better part of a semester sitting next to him in class. In her reflection, she shared about the visceral nature of the tragedy. To the killer, the victims weren’t really people. They simply represented what he felt he deserved and hadn’t acquired. But to us, the victims were “flesh and blood.” And, as much as we resented this individual’s behavior, he was “flesh and blood” to us, too. We had class with him, we were his roommates and neighbors, we ate in the dining hall with him. With the media inundation, the semester became a tantalizing crime thriller. But for us, it was real. Flesh and blood.

As I navigated the exhibit, hot, fat tears welled up. Some people standing nearby quieted and slowed their movement, perhaps in realization that while this exhibit is merely a history lesson to them, it is real life for me. For a long time, one of the labels over my identity was not being able to show weakness or to admit pain, or to have feelings in general. Ever since April 16th, I could no longer control my tears like previously. Yet, on this day, I took comfort in what those tears meant. In that mess of April 2007, when faced with the darkest fear and deepest hurt of my life, I also came face to face with the deepest, most generous love of strangers and friends standing beside me. Those tears come from a place of “knowing” a love like none other; perhaps, it came from “knowing” a pain like no other, but either way I “know” the feeling of being supported and loved by people in the sweetest and gentlest ways, rarely experienced since then.

As I walked by the chapel on the drill field, I spotted confetti on the stairs. I love confetti. I love seeing it on the street. It’s a defiant, unapologetic act of joy and celebration. It marks the spot as a place something special and worth remembering happened, which is absolutely true.

My recent sabbatical allowed me to spend time in my hometown. The town has grown so much it doesn’t always feel like where I grew up. Now, there are things to do besides riding your bike or going to Dairy Queen. I have a different appreciation for it now that I’ve been away for a decade. I run into old family friends periodically and sometimes they don’t recognize me, so I enjoy flying under the radar. News still travels fast, though. When I bump into someone I know, they seem to already know why I’m here and what I’m doing. For the most part that is okay; I am not guarding government secrets. One thing I enjoyed about living in cities, however, was the ability to be anonymous.

Today, I found myself face to face with an old family acquaintance. Honestly, I usually turn the other way when I see her coming (for a lot reasons I won’t detail because that isn’t the point). A master manipulator, this individual flipped from friend to foe when necessary for her own gain. This is the grit of small town living: some people or situations are totally unavoidable. My parents chose not to respond in kind for a lot of reasons, some I’m aware of and some not. Today, I learned one more reason.

It isn’t worth it. There isn’t time or room in my life for such ugliness. Hopefully, this person has changed in the last decade. The five minutes I spent talking to her didn’t really suggest that, so, I had a choice to make. I could let the anger and emotions swirl to the top, ruining my day. I could call a couple friends who would completely understand my feelings and rant the afternoon away. But that still small voice whispered to me, “You don’t have room for this in your life.”

Perhaps it is because of Valentine’s Day but most of my daily scriptures recently focused on love. “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense (Proverbs 17:9)…perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).” I calmly smiled at this person, engaged in sufficient pleasantries, and moved along. When she moved the conversation toward her usual direction, I changed course and felt no shame in refusing to play her game. In the past, I might have spent the afternoon fuming and reliving this person’s misdeeds. But, I had more important things to do today, things I really cared about. When I allow someone else’s behavior to dominate my mind and emotions, they are my master. When I choose to be confident in who I am and focus on what is important to me, I am free. Which is exactly what I sought most of my growing up years – to be free of the negative, toxic dump trailing this person.

This revelation could apply to any number of situations in my life; but today, it was one of those quietly powerful revelations. The fog cleared, and it was my hand that wiped it way.

On a recent trip to Richmond for Pilates Certification training, I visited Maymont Mansion during some free time. As a child, my family traveled there once or twice a year, visiting my two great aunts. They have both since passed away, quickly dwindling my trips there.

v6QZKwvgQc2KBhiDIoAVCQI needed an adventure break during training weekend. Saturday was a beautifully sunny day. I always try take in cultural experiences while traveling. I needed a little exercise, too, so Maymont Mansion seemed like a great match. Clearly a community favorite, families and joggers enjoyed the grounds with me. I laughed (to myself) overhearing a dad try to explain to his little girl that this was indeed, a park. She expected swings and slides, not manicured lawns. She kept repeating, “Where is it? I don’t see no park.” I walked most of the grounds before realizing that below a hill lay another garden. I bounded down the winding stone path into a Japanese horticulture homage. It felt like entering a secret garden tucked beneath the great hill.

One water feature included large stepping stones to access a small island. A dad and his son crossed ahead of me, so I paused to watch the little boy’s pleasure at hopping across the stones. His mother and sibling waited on the other side, waving happily. Somewhat frantically, the little boy yelled, “How am I going to get over there?! Am I stuck here?” His young mind hadn’t quite calculated that the whole path formed a loop, or that he could return the way he came. His dad calmly said, “Lookthere is a bridge on this side of the island we can take.” Crisis averted! The little boy darted across the bridge eagerly, ready to be relieved of his brief marooning.

His cry and posture reminded me of Gao Xingjian’s The Other Shore. As a senior in college, I acted as house manager for the show. I made the mistake of not fully observing the play prior to managing the late seating policy. I tried to squeeze two patrons into aisle seats just as several cast members came darting up the aisle “on their way to the other shore.” The play reminded me of dynamics on the show Lost, wherein the stress and adrenaline of trying to figure out one’s relationship to the universe made one question every aspect of reality.

I understood exactly how that little boy felt trying to get to the other side. It is easy to bound forward in excitement, target in view. You realize there is something unexpected or impassable between you and your final goal – it might be small, like two feet of water. The focus and commitment to the goal makes looking elsewhere feel like betrayal or a waste of time. But, by taking a moment to look around, the way out might become clear. Or, the voice of a friend with wise advice can be heard. This quick interchange gave me a picture of God, the good Shepherd, walking alongside his beloved. He isn’t in a rush and he isn’t going to join the freakout party. He isn’t going to laugh at our short-sightedness or get frustrated at our zero to sixty desperation. He keeps walking with us, letting us charge forward, guiding our steps.

 

 

 

Right before Thanksgiving, I spent a couple days sitting in a hospital, watching my grandfather leave earth. I wasn’t particularly close to this side of my family so my memories of him are few, but distinct. Aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, pastors, and children rotated through his room. We talked, cried, hugged, laughed, and reflected. My grandmother told us that when he proposed to her, she told him she needed time to think about this decision. She decided that after 66 years together, it had turned out okay.

This part of my family is stoic but very kind. My grandfather spent most of his life doing manual labor – he loved to farm. When farming didn’t pay the bills, he worked other jobs on top of managing the farm. He’d been a milkman, transit employee, and worked as a foreman for NASA’s fuel program. He turned 18 at the end of World War II and as an agricultural worker was needed more at home than abroad. His farm kept him out of the Korean War as well. My dad shared these memories as we drove to the hospital. He was immensely proud of his father — an extremely hard worker with four kids to raise but still found ways to enjoy his life. His gardens have been described as cleaner and more beautiful than most houses. My grandfather made his achievements by working hard and with patience. My dad said that whatever he did, it was done carefully, thoroughly. He gained the trust and confidence for whomever he worked. He attended all my dad’s high school football and baseball games. He helped my dad finance his education by selling livestock.

To me he was sort of intimidating – always sailing by on a big tractor, up before dawn working outside. Into his eighties he still retained significant physical strength. He had a low, rumbling voice, that resonated in every fold of his vocal chords. A country man, his vernacular floated through his drawl. I loved listening to him pray – it was always a short prayer full of thanks. With his accent it seemed much longer. He was not one to command attention and yet the throng of cousins immediately stood stock still once it was time to pray before meals. He loved to eat. My grandmother spent their marriage trying to keep him healthy, but he wasn’t much for salad.

He loved the land where he lived. He knew all the families and their geography. I loved listening to him give directions – he added so much color to what he described. He wasn’t giving directions so much as he was giving an oral history.

His life was a well earned one. He survived farm life, gasoline burns on his legs as a child, heavy manual labor, burying a daughter much too early, and drastically improved the quality of life his children had over his. My aunt looked around his hospital room and said, “this is quite a legacy.” He wasn’t awake, but we all spoke to him, held his hand, and he would sort of nod his head. My grandmother sat with her hand on his head, leaning her cheek down to his, just being with him.

For every action there is an equal or greater reaction.

My great uncle gave me a two minute sermon in the hospital hallway. “Hate is like a boomerang. We wind it up and it just keeps coming back to us. Love is choosing to grab it out of the air and bury it. We stop it from beating us up and hurting those around us. Love chooses to break the cycle. Love is brave.” My grandparents made a lot of hard, brave decisions. They chose to stop many of the things that divide families. They chose to be generous even when it cost them. They always sent us (and many others) home with a cooler full of meat, canned vegetables, preserves, hulled nuts in an old coffee can.

My grandmother selected 1 Thessalonians 4:11 in honor of my grandfather, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands…so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” Often when I think of ambition, it is for huge causes and world changing ideas. This idea of ambition as a sober, gentle life seems just as challenging – choosing to focus on the things that matter rather than be consumed by what matters to everyone else.