14 02 2010

I just came home from a long rehearsal.  I probably directed for seven hours today.  Yes, I am tired, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  I’m so tired, I had to vent on my Facebook status, and I never do that.  And although I have been meaning to write a new entry, it’s probably good that I waited til now.  I think all my thoughts are organized, and what I have to write is coming from a sincere place.

In my 14 years of dancing, choreographing, directing, coaching & mentoring, I have had the privilege of working with SO many talented dancers.  The story is always the same… A dancer auditions for one of my groups, hoping to be under my wing, yearning for my attention and approval.  The dancer usually becomes remarkable, and the rest is history.  If only!!  It hasn’t always happened like that.  Sure, I’ve had some OUTSTANDING & EXTRAORDINARY dancers come through my program.  They have each earned a spot in my imaginary Hall of Fame, but more importantly, they have evolved into well-respected dancers/coaches/people.  I’m talking about Jason Oxina, Robbie Del Rosario, Jeremy Aguas, Paul Ross, Arnel Vasquez, Anthony Kin & probably a few more.  When I think of my best years of directing, it usually involved these guys.  They’ve committed to me on so many platforms, whether it was FORMALity, a studio team like Rising Star or Temecula Dance Company, a Carnival project, or assisting me in class… And whatever the project was, their presence always made the product more polished & professional.  They are well-rounded dancers, with great attitudes, always willing to put others first.  These are students I will never EVER forget.  And here’s where it ties in with the title of my entry: HUMILITY.

I define humility as the ability to stay focused, driven, motivated, polite, respectful, even tough you rank among the best, or even though you’ve achieved many of your goals, or even though you have been dancing for many years.  Humility is the one quality that will keep you in the game, the one element that will set you apart from the amateurs, and the characteristic that I instill in my students regularly.  I have trained so many dancers in this community, and I think many people have learned from my example or from my work, whether it be good or bad.  My point is, I’ve seen my honest share of dancers with humility and dancers without it.

On the downside of this notion are students with very little, or no humility.  They dance and rehearse as if there were nothing more for them to learn.  That irritates me!!  I have been in every facet of the dance world.  I founded FORMALity.  I coached several high schools.  I’ve worked at some of the best dance studios.  And I’ve had the privilege of teaching around the world.  In everything I’ve done, I’ve been pretty successful.  More recently though, students lack the ability to take (and make) a correction, take an extra class, or practice on their own, etc.

In my days of dance, there was only one way to get good, and that was to take class!  There was no youtube, no ABDC, no dance crew around the corner to take me in.  When I was younger, all I did was go to school, work, and take class.  There were no other options!  I would have my boss schedule my shift to end by 5p every day so that I could get to class.  And every day at 5:30 PM, I was taking class with Anna Sarao, Eddie Barcello, or Angie Bunch at Culture Shock.  I would take lots of beginning and some intermediate classes.  And sometimes, my teachers would teach the same routine week to week, and I never became bored.  I knew that somewhere in the monotony, there was a lesson to be learned.

Truthfully, there was less drama in those days.  I think there is tons of drama today because many teachers & leaders take the shortcut.  No one wants to do the work to teach students humility, patience or discipline.  And that’s why there’s why we have a saturated dance scene.  That’s why it is now quantity or over quality.  It breaks my heart because as we continue to quantify, we are somehow losing the sincerity in what we do.  I know there are other teachers like me who are trying to preserve the past, but for me, I’m growing weary of the way things are.

This past year has been rough.  I got to work with a mixture of very humble, and less humble dancers, dancers who are smart, and dancers who are clueless.  In every situation, I recognize that it starts at the top, and the people at the top set the climate for people to fail or succeed.  Last March, I started directing FORMALity again, and those guys move at my tempo.  I move fast, I expect it of my dancers.  I’m also busy, therefore, it makes me impatient.  With FORMALity, we are able to prepare for shows in just a few rehearsals, we can reblock at a moment’s notice, and we adjust to any situation given to us.  I coach a similar group in Montreal named Aftermath.  And they also move fast.  They are able to find solutions on their own while I am staging a new piece.  They think proactively instead of expecting me to do all the work.  They can give each other corrections without taking it personal, and they don’t mind sharing the spotlight with each other.  At Temecula Dance Company, I have a bunch of kids under the age of 12 who learn, clean and block a piece in one hour.  They don’t goof off, they just work hard.  I know teens & adults who can’t even do this!!  More recently, I was asked to set a piece on the Carlsbad High School Lancer Dancers again.  My assistant taught the choreo, and a week later, I came in to stage the entire thing.  I sat in the bleachers and did everything from where I was sitting.  I spoke, they listened.  I didn’t have to get up once.  What I’m saying is, they’re professionals!  They know the difference between stage right & stage left, upstage & downstage.  They don’t talk while I am talking.  When I give a correction to one person, the entire team is listening.  Last week, they placed third at nationals.  But this is the kind of humility that I’m saying is very rare.  I feel very fortunate that I am allowed to work with dedicated groups.  I have experienced firsthand, or heard about dysfunctional situations.  Seriously, in the past year, I’ve seen advisors make excuses for their dancers, coaches walk out on their teams, and dancers tell the choreographer how to run rehearsal.  For some of you reading this, you’re either, “Yup, that’s my team” or “Wow, I didn’t know that kind of stuff happened.”  Well, it does!!  I’m sick of it, and I think I want to end my entry by making a few recommendations.

Teachers: DO NOT EVER SETTLE.  It is our job to teach these eager students how to be respectful.  Teach them etiquette and work ethic.  Teach them how to deal with disappointment.  It will make them appreciate things even more!!  It should always be about the process and not just the results.  Don’t ever give up on doing what is best for your students!  We owe it to them and to the teachers who taught us correctly.  Yes, sometimes it is painful, but sending them out into the dance world unpolished and unrefined is much more worse!!

Dancers: DO NOT LOSE YOUR SENSE OF HUMILITY.  Dancers who lack humility usually become lazy, unfocused, and many times, arrogant.  There is a lesson in everything, even if the lesson is old.  If you passionately love dance, then first place, fame, attention, approval, shouldn’t even matter.  Examine your reasons for why you first started dancing.  Compare it to why you still dance.  Consider why you want to continue dancing.  Pursue it whole-heartedly, and listen with all of your senses.  Adapt to every situation.  Accept every challenge.  Adjust your attitude.  I have encountered so many dancers with bad attitudes.  They carry this energy about them as if they already know everything, and sadly, many of them have failed.  Many of them have never reached their full potential because they could never humble themselves.  They are somewhere in this world, hating me for wanting to teach them something they never knew they needed.  But thankfully, I’ve had students like Jason Oxina, Robbie Del Rosario, Jeremy Aguas, Paul Ross, Arnel Vasquez, Anthony Kin (& more) to remind me that humility is the key to a successful, rewarding, and soul-satisfying dance career.

One day I will write a book on the struggles & successes of my life as a leader & director.  I hope to share in more details my encounters with these remarkable people.  For now, you have this.  Hope you have enjoyed, and I hope you are inspired.

Happy Valentine’s Day!



31 12 2009

Last night, my friend posted a link to a Stanford commencement speech presented by Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and Pixar.

In his speech, he had said,
“You’ve got to find what you love.
The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.
And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking & don’t settle.
As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.
And like any great relationship, it just gets better & better as the years roll on.
So keep looking.  Don’t settle.”

As I was watching this clip, I knew without a doubt that I was on the right path, and that I am very fortunate to do what I do.  By trade, I am a dance teacher/choreographer.  I work with so many students on a weekly basis.  I’d say that my influence extends throughout several cities and is prevalent in all the teachers I’ve trained.  In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the dancers of the golden days of dance become invincible and soon after, retire.  And I’ve watched the stampede of younger dancers start crews in every corner, or every city of the world.  Hip-Hop dance has become real popular!! Although, I don’t know if I like it or dislike it.

I’m writing this post to end the current year on a positive note and to reflect on everything from the past decade.  After all, this is the decade that shaped FORMALity into what it is today.   Just an hour ago, I had a meeting with some of my dancers on FORMALity.  We were discussing our biggest accomplishments of 2009 and what we thought had improved, and discussed what we would like to accomplish in 2010.  Regarding what we accomplished in 2009, I was pleased to hear that the overall preparation and attention to detail improved.  They also felt that they finally had a voice and were always eager for the weekend because they knew what to expect.  I was real humbled to hear all of that.  These are nice kids that I get to work with, and the great thing about them is that they are very driven and hungry for more.  I feel like even though they’ve grown into very resourceful men, that they’re still mature enough to seek my help if needed.

As we approach 2010, we are ending a very long decade.  This decade meant so much to me as I feel like I did everything during this time.  It was 2002 when FORMALity came onto the collegiate scene and won every competition.  It’s weird because it feels like it happened a long time ago AND not too long ago.  I can’t explain it, but perhaps the feelings of nostalgia occur whenever we experience a new personal best, or when we see someone who’s learned from us succeed.  This was the decade that evolved me into a dance teacher (2001), the decade I graduated college (2003), the decade I started new groups under FORM (2005), the decade I tried & failed to run a studio (2006), the decade I put my personal life on stage (2006), the decade I realized I could do “it” again (2007), the decade I started to travel the world (2009),  and more importantly the decade I realized that I want to do this for the rest of my life.

If you’re reading this, I hope you at least start to believe in miracles.  I experience miracles every day of my life.  I am very fortunate to have been hurt by all the wrong AND right people because it has shaped me into who I am now.  Fact of the matter is, I am so thankful for having the career that I have. I love waking up every day, knowing that my example is going to change someone’s life.  I am hoping to use this blog as a means to inspire dancers to pursue it whole-heartedly, and for humans to have hope.  This was such a significant decade in my life.  Here’s to an even more significant one.  Happy New Year, everyone.  Welcome 2010.  -e