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On the Ground

Dancing the Day

Ballet BC’s Connor Gnam
  • Connor Gnam / Photo by Michael Slobodian
  • Connor Gnam / Photo Michael Slobodian

6:45 a.m. I hate radio DJs in the morning. I know they’re nice people, and I like them the rest of the time. But when my alarm goes off and I hear whatever classic rock or 90s hit they’ve decided to throw my way, I hate them. 

Waking up in the morning, I sometimes feel like a pilot doing his pre-flight checklist. Today, the first thing I check is my neck. Somehow, I sprained it a couple days ago and it’s been in pretty rough shape since. But with the shows just over a week away, it’s more about keeping the train on the tracks than anything else. The good news is my neck doesn’t hurt as much as it did yesterday.

I make my way through my body, rolling, flexing and gently twisting everything to see what condition I’m in today. I’ve determined that my right shoulder, which had a gentle purr when I rolled it (well, more like gravel in a slow-motion blender), is in bad shape today. My back is exceptionally tight from the midpoint up; most likely a consequence of the sprained neck. My left hip is still doing this weird shooting pain thing when I rotate it, which has spread down to my knee. And both my ankles feel like they’ve been fused solid. So, all in all, a pretty standard day! Now, I need some coffee.

The trip from the bed to the coffee maker resembles a scene from The Walking Dead. There’s more shuffling than actual walking going on, but I get there eventually. 

After breakfast, and as many cups of coffee as I can ingest in the time before I need to leave, I grab my bike and hit the road. My morning commute is a short but incredible hill-filled ride. Today is particularly bad because my left knee has decided not to come to work today. 

Class starts a little bit late. I think Curtis, our teacher, can sense that we’re all a bit tired. Class has an almost therapeutic quality sometimes. There isn’t an optional thing that I’ve done as many times in my life as ballet class. Ballet class has evolved with me my whole life, and in a lot of ways it almost resets my body and works the kinks out. I start class feeling like I can barely stand on my own two feet, but, by the end, I’m operating at as close to one hundred percent as I know I’m going to get to today. (I just got distracted and did some very rough math to see how many classes I’ve probably taken in my life. In my twenty-plus years of dancing, I have done over 5,000 classes!)

We’re about a week away from the shows and our schedule for the day is broken down in three major chunks. After class, we spend two hours of rehearsal on each of the three pieces, with a lunch break in the middle. We start the day with A.U.R.A.. I’ve never had a piece push me as hard as A.U.R.A. does, and I can’t run it without getting nervous. Today is no different.

But with my neck being what it is, I know I’m going to have to approach it differently. One of the hardest parts of being a dancer is that our bodies are variable; no two days will ever be the same. This forces us to always evolve our creative process. With A.U.R.A., I’ve always been told to calm down and relax into the movement. Which I always try to do, but as I’m marking it, I realize that I’m actually not relaxing into it at all; I’m still holding things pretty hard. As the run starts, I keep catching myself holding things way too tightly, clenching muscle groups that I can just release. I keep repeating the same thoughts of calm and release in my head over and over again. Then I get to the place where I normally hit my first stamina wall, and I feel energized instead of exhausted. I keep going along this thread and as the piece goes on I realize that, in all of the places where I used to be completely spent, I have enough energy to keep going. Mentally, it’s a constant struggle to maintain the mantra of relaxing into the movement and keeping calm, but it’s working so I have to stick with it. Normally when I finish the piece I feel like I’m going to throw up and pass out at the same time. This time I’m exhausted, but I can stand up, and walk around without having Jell-O legs. I feel almost like I cheated, but I was told that I actually did a good job and that it looked a lot better than previous runs. I feel like I just discovered an entire new level to my dancing that I never thought was possible. That’s cool!

After receiving notes, we have lunch. Most of the company is crammed into the tiny place where we get our protein shakes. We don’t normally all get them, but it’s a good boost heading into show week. 

After lunch, we work on the other two pieces, An Instant by Lesley Telford and White Act by Fernando Magadan. We don’t have run-throughs of those pieces because we ran them both yesterday. So mostly, it’s just notes and running certain sections.

While watching a section that I’m not in, I look around the room at the faces of all the other people watching. We’re a family at Ballet BC, and it’s always reassuring to look around and see people watching with excitement, encouragement, but most importantly, pride. We’re proud of what we do and we’re proud of each other. I’m surrounded by tremendous artists and incredible art, and I get as much of it as I want, whenever I want. 

When I finish the day I have to make a quick exit, I teach on Wednesday nights and after finishing at 6:15 I have to run out, get on my bike and make it to the studio on the other side of town for 6:30. I generally look like a mess when I get there. I tell my class all about my epiphany today, which is basically met with blank stares. That’s fine, they’ll understand some day. Despite being exhausted, teaching always gives me energy. Watching kids learn something new and seeing the pride in their faces at their achievement is humbling and worth the lightning-fast bike ride I made to get here. 

After teaching, I bike home. It’s dark and the air is cold and crisp. There’s a point on the Cambie Street Bridge where you reach the peak and you can just start coasting. My legs are completely spent, my neck is very sore and I can feel my face sagging with fatigue. There are no cars on the bridge and it’s so quiet. The skyline is lit with the bright lights of Yaletown. The fresh ocean air keeps me awake. I know that in half an hour I’ll be home, and I can sleep, and start it all again. A part of me is dreading what my body is going to feel like tomorrow, but today I accomplished something. I changed the way that I’ll dance for the rest of my life. At the end of this day I know, with complete certainty, that I am lucky!~

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