July 2008


My dance birthday actually was in June, but I’ve been reading about people “celebrating” theirs and reminiscing over their dance lives. I already wrote about my beginnings in my ‘About Me’ section, albeit brief.

I’d love to say I’m one of those dance wunderkinds who danced her/his way out of the womb and onto the stage, but I’m not. I took ballet and tap when I was a little kid and then quit it. I wasn’t anything special at it. I went onto violin for a while, and I eventually quit that to devote time to running a bunch of clubs at school. If you saw Rushmore, I was like Max Fischer, except a girl and much better grades.

If you ask anyone who knew me prior to the dance years, it is surprising to them. That’s one of the things I love about the kinds of dance I do: they attract all sorts of people.

I think I’ve grown a lot as a dancer since I began (2003, with lessons on and off according to my schedule). My technique is stronger, though there is always something to work on. I’ve done some bad fusion that I’m thankful I don’t have on tape (though it was performed for a small audience), but I’ve also done some performances I am proud of.

In 2005, I started Bharatanatyam, which was life changing in a lot of ways. I started it basically because I didn’t know how to spend my time in Lansing, MI. I didn’t know anyone and wanted something to do beyond the 9-5 of my internship. I discovered yet another dance form I could do excel in. It was so different from what I was used to but so much fun and interesting.

Along the way, I met a lot of amazing people people, students and dancers. Dance has helped me mend a broken heart or two along the way, have epiphanies in class regarding my life, and makes me feel good. I also am in very good shape now :). It certainly isn’t easy.

I’ve been doing this for the past 5 years or 3 years for Indian dance, on and off. I look forward to where the next year takes me in dance.

Here’s a sneak preview of the progress of my costume bra. I have to sew the back straps on, but they’ll be the same teal fabric. I think they’ll be plain and not the lettuce-leaf detailing on them. I will make a panel skirt out of the pink fabric; I have so much left, because I wasn’t sure how much to buy. I hope by the end of August that I will have a complete costume set of sorts.

I was once told, on separate occasions by different people, that dancers are very insecure people and physicists tend to worry more than anyone else.

In my process of cleaning an image with 235 channels for my thesis, I was thinking about how I feel about all of it. I’m not particularly talented with image processing and reducing the noise in the images, honestly. My advisor was surprised at what I didn’t observe in cleaning the image (a few of the images I thought were acceptable were not).

I don’t think I’m a fabulously talented physics person, nor do I believe I’m an astrophysics goddess, but I was kind of thrown since I thought I was doing okay for someone who had started about a month and a half ago really do something with this imaging (and it isn’t daily). I’m not happy with my progress, as I think I’ve mentioned at other times.

I’ve been beating myself up over this during the weekend. Being of both temperaments (as well as tendency to be dramatic at times), I’ve been wondering if I’m cut out for this. I have these moments in dance as well. The moments where you can’t execute something simple or something everyone in your class but you can. You feel bad, you question whether if all your best efforts are in vain, and so on.

While processing this image, I kept thinking about it. My research isn’t even in a field I plan on pursuing! Then I remembered one of the most important pieces of advice to my life: always keep in mind why you’re there. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, and I know I always change the wording when I state it, but the sentiment is to remember why it is you do what you do. My Bharatanatyam teacher Carla told this to me, and I have carried that in my mind since.

With dance, off the top of my head, I can think of several things I have struggled with. A shuffle in Indian dance (just softly kicking your leg while striking the heel on the floor) was hard. Tribhangi turns were difficult. Upward vertical figure 8s (called taqsims sometimes) were difficult. The hip drops with release were difficult for me not to look bad. And generally speaking with Middle Eastern dance, I’ve had to come to terms that I’m a small girl. I’m short and thin. Belly rolls will never be huge and soft on me. I can’t take huge steps and expect to look remotely graceful. Remembering a turn’s direction is difficult, since it’s different than in Indian dance. I’m a forward turner through Indian dance. By that, I mean my non-weight bearing leg/side goes towards the audience; belly dancers tend to turn backwards.

However, I stuck with dance, because I kept the big picture in mind: I wanted to be a better dancer. Instead of getting caught up on how I wasn’t getting it and other negativity that can fester, I changed my mind’s focus

So for my thesis, I have decided to focus on why I originally picked this advisor/project: because I wanted to be more well-rounded in physics. Because I wanted a challenge. Because I wanted someone who wouldn’t let me get away with bsing it and demand of me quality work. Because I wanted to prove to myself that I can succeed in physics.

I know I’m not the best person at astrophysics and image processing, but I can be better, and I know I can pull this off and succeed.

Because I have no idea what state I’ll be in next weekend (a friend of mine is visiting Chicago right now, and we’re going to Lollapalooza next weekend), I thought I’d write another review to keep the weekend reviews up.

Feynman’s Rainbow, title referencing the physicist Richard Feynman (he helped create the atomic bomb), is a book I find both applicable to people of science and non-science folks. I found it at my undergraduate school’s library, and I read it, because the cover was cool and attractive (I was in the physics section of books). The book does indeed reference physics and topics of physics, but what I got out of it the most is making life decisions on your career. I recently recommended it to my partner, who found it an enjoyable and useful read. Given that it’s the time of year for people to head back (or not head back) to school, I thought I’d throw this one out there for you all.

The author, Leonard Mlodinow, who is not Feynman obviously, is at a crossroad in his life. He’s a physicist who is unsure of what he wants to do with his life and where he wants to go with it. The author is clearly bright; he completed a PhD and was a post-doc at CalTech, which is one of the best schools for physics. He was fortunate enough to be at CalTech when Feynman was still alive and other characters critical to physics were there.

What I like about this book is that it’s comforting to read something frank about creating a career. I think one of the greatest tragedies in education is we don’t discuss being unsure or recognize that it’s okay to not have a defined path, especially when you go beyond your undergraduate degree. I myself still struggle to figure out what I want out of life and my career. I think the author’s honesty was the biggest asset.

This book isn’t Nabokov. Don’t read it and expect to be dazzled by its style (that statement is more than likely applicable to this blog, too :)). Don’t read it and expect some great insight on Feynman or the other fine folks who work at CalTech, either. The conversations with Feynman, in my opinion, can give you insight on him but are more guides for the author.

I think it’s a worthwhile read, because very rarely in society people write about being unsure in their career. I feel like now more than ever I’m expected to have a very defined idea of where I want to go. It’s comforting to know that the author, Mlodinow, is most likely smarter than I, has definitely had more opportunities and successes in physics than I, and yet struggled to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. To most people, it would seem obvious that he should pursue physics, but there’s so much more than very empirical measurements to determine what you should do.

If you want to be sort of spoiled, here’s what happened to Mlodinow. I think it’s very cool

For something fun and keep everyone interested, I decided to make weekends my day (or days) to post reviews of things relevant to the blog. This blog obviously has a dance slant, but I will try to post a few physics things every now and then.

I’ve been listening to Tribal Derivations recently. If you are not familiar with Beats Antique, they were the music of choice I believe for The Indigo, who are probably the most influential tribal fusion dance troupe around these days. Zoe Jakes (one of the current members of The Indigo) is even on the cover of the CD. The music blends Middle Eastern rhythms with very breezy electronica.

Most of this music is perfect for those who want to move slowly in an ambient, chilled out way. It’s very pretty, but a lot of it I find repetitive. For a lot of dancers who like to sink into the music and get into a trance-like zone, most of the songs (thinking of “The Battle” on this CD) do not have sudden breaks or dynamical changes. I’m into something a bit faster and bit more dramatic myself; I favored “Intertwine” and “Break Me” myself.

I do like this for slow drills (constant repetition of a movement for muscle memory and strength/endurance building) and stretching, which is why I still have it. For the former, it does have a nice rhythm to follow. Slow drills are good for really understanding a move, by the way, and I haven’t found a lot of music I favor for slow drills. For the latter, the music is tranquil for a good stretch.

I give this CD 3 out of 5 stars. For my purposes, I can’t see myself really performing to most of it, unless I edit the tracks and slice & splice with another song. However, it isn’t a bad CD, and I’ve even found uses for it in my own practice. If you are of the tribal fusion with continuous sounding, slinky music, you’ll probably love it. If you are not a dancer but favor interesting music, check it out.

I have a little tradition before going to dance class. I write in my journal, my private one. I do this, because I have a 40 minute bus ride to class and need a way to spend my time. I also do it to clear my head. If something has been troubling me, I find it best to get it out of my system. I never perform well in class when I’m bothered by something personal. I just can’t learn, because my mind is elsewhere. I know also I can’t do simple moves if I’m too busy worrying about other issues in my life.

I write after class what I want to do to improve. I figure it’s freshest in my mind then. It’s probably the academic in me, but that really helps me learn. It also helps me feel like I’m accomplishing something. When taking classes, it’s easy to get discouraged and compare yourself to others (this is generally true in life). I like that my journal helps me see that I am not completely without hope, that I show signs of improvement.

Yesterday’s discover was kind of funny. My belly flutters improved significantly but for some reason, my belly rolls are a bit more difficult. It used to be the opposite. I suppose I was trying so hard to develop flutters that I may have underworked the sequence of muscles used for a roll. Although it’d be nice to have both going for me, the nicest thing about really getting something solid is getting it back isn’t nearly as hard as learning it the initial time.

I came across this thread on Tribe this morning about when and how you should name teachers under whom you studied or with whom you worked.

I can’t attest to everyone, but I linked up everyone I took at least a season’s worth (3 months) of classes with on my links section because I liked these people and hope that maybe others will check them out. I don’t do it to brag or to look like a better dancer. I simply wish to pay respect to my teacher. I don’t wish to name drop.

The teachers who I claim are influential are ones I studied under for a longer time (about a year normally) and/or I feel I gained a lot out of it. Their styles meshed with me more or perhaps it is because I studied under them for a long time. I feel that those people have had a bigger influence on me and my style of dance.

I don’t consider videos/DVDs or workshops really studying under someone. The former can be useful for some people, but the instructor on the DVD has no say in whether you’re truly getting his/her style or can correct you… It would be like if I told people I studied at MIT, because I use their OpenCourseware (lecture notes and other goodies posted online). I think workshops are a big step above learning from a DVD and one can gain a lot, but I’m not convinced that it’s enough to say you truly studied under someone. You can get a lot of useful things out of it, but I can’t say that you get nuances and an entire effect in a day or a weekend.

For my own benefit and perhaps for use in the future, I have a dance resume with everything on it. I don’t think it’s professional to misrepresent yourself. It’s setup like a combination of an actor’s resume and my ‘normal’ resume. The normal aspect of it clearly states under whom I studied, what kind of study (class, private lesson, workshop), and for how long. I think it’s important, because there’s a huge difference among those three. To make an analogy using my normal resume, I once had an internship at a nuclear physics laboratory. I state that I had an internship, not that I worked there. To me, if I were to state that I worked there, it sounds like I had a 40 hr/week job for a while, not a summer internship with somewhat flexible hours.

I can’t comment on other people’s motivations, because I don’t know what they are. Perhaps they have no motivations regarding this matter and don’t think hard about the wording. Perhaps they realize they are intentionally misrepresenting things. I have no clue. At the end of the day, I do strongly believe that it is important to be as honest as possible when representing yourself. I worked as a contract employee for a book publishing company last year, and every place I went to expected my skills as is. The same with physics jobs. You don’t have write dryly, but certainly don’t exaggerate your skills. It may come back to haunt you.

As for dance, someone on Tribe put it best (paraphrasing): a good video of your dancing speaks more volumes about you than under whom you studied.

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