Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Tricky Little So-and-So

I don’t fully understand how or why it happens that certain members of my family who have passed on come to me in dreams, but it has happened often enough, intensely enough, for me to accept these visitations as real. So when my uncle Edgar, who died a little over a year ago, showed up last night, I listened to what he had to say.

He told me of his anguish at having killed people as a soldier in Vietnam. How nothing was the same for him after this. How he never recovered, never could fully allow joy, knowing that he had robbed others of their joy. He told me all this not for sympathy or to justify anything. He just desperately needed to be heard, needed to be understood. So, I simply held a non-judgemental space for him to tell his story and I think this somehow helped him to move towards letting go.

There’s no hell like that of being unable to forgive yourself. Two years after I’ve stopped performing, I am still psychically dragging my ass over the coals over what I did or didn’t do as a dancer. I have examined every failure so often that it is like a scratched record inside my head. With each cycle, the grooves dig themselves deeper and deeper, leaving Grand Canyon sized holes in me that I sometimes trip into. Then I spend hours, days, scrambling through the dirt and bracken before finding my way back again, up into the light.

Why is it so hard to forgive one’s self? Why do we prolong the torture long after the lesson has been learned, even unto the next life? When do we decide that we’ve suffered enough?

Edgar’s visit roused me. I was haunted by thoughts of carrying unfinished business into the next life like the vegetables you discarded on your dinner plate as a child that showed up again, instead of pancakes, for breakfast. And the longer you put them off, the harder they were to swallow.

After some digging, I found a reason for why we may prolong our suffering in an unlikely hiding place. Now, I think we tend to associate ego (that part of us that always wants to separate) with arrogance, but the ego is a tricky little so-and-so. He can masquerade as suffering.

In order to explain, I need to reference another dream…Although the circumstances vary, the theme of this recurrent dream is always the same. It’s an anxiety dream in which I am unprepared for a performance. In this particular instance, I was warming up in a basement studio beneath the stage. I only had one pointe shoe on when I heard the bars of music that announced my entrance. I went tearing towards the elevator, shoe in hand, to make my way upstairs. A small group of people were casually getting on or off the elevator, chatting, friendly, at which point I starting shouting hysterically for everyone to hurry the fuck up. I had to get to the stage! Well, all of that hysterical shouting must have awakened a part of me, call it my higher self. So big Tai came into little Tai’s dream and told me to relax. I was making it all up. And just like that, little Tai saw her ego at work: the performance cannot go on without me…all of this drama must mean that I’m doing something really important. The suffering was making me feel important but I was creating it and my ego was feeding off of this self-inflicted pain.

I think our inability to forgive ourselves operates in much the same way. It’s like, if we don’t let go and forgive ourselves, it proves that what we did was really bad and therefore, really important. I don’t mean to downplay the horror of taking another life. That’s about as serious as it gets. But even the suffering from this has its end. No, even this is not important enough to keep us from our birthright for all of eternity. And that birthright is, that no matter what, we get to keep growing. All of us. Soldiers, criminals and reluctant ballerinas alike. It’s actually the bad stuff that often makes us grow the most. Like manure.

So, just imagine what we’ll be.

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Here Now Happy

Have you ever seen the Family Guy episode when baby Stewie stands in the mirror spewing vitriol at his own reflection? He curses the rolls of fat spilling over his diaper, his chubby thighs and ugly face. Then he runs to the toilet, hysterical, and sticks his finger down his throat. Sorry if a bit of humor is lost in my re-telling but it was pretty funny. Our obsession with physical perfection is now officially absurd.

I think the reasons for it go much deeper than mere vanity. It’s a kind of spiritual laziness, a fatal logic, that assumes that because we are lovers of beauty, beauty will bring us love. We participate in this belief-illusion to varying degrees. We laugh at the Real Housewives of Atlanta. We covet their excess while simultaneously being disgusted by it all. It’s similar to that queer combination of feeling one experiences at the zoo.

I love beauty. I love fashion. I love a pretty face and body. And lipstick. I want those things for myself, but I see the ones who have lost themselves for the sake of the lie and wonder where the plum-line is. I guess it’s one of those things that each heart has to decide individually, but the plastic surgery mask-face makes me wonder where we are headed collectively. There’s a growing army of people that are waging a war against time by attempting to freeze their faces to a single moment. A moment when they looked their best. A moment of youth. It’s like extinguishing your life for the sake of a memory. It makes nature and time out to be the enemy, when they are our greatest teachers.

We are afraid.

We are afraid that we won’t be loved. Won’t be seen. Will stop being seen. Ignored.

We are afraid of change and death and we have lost the life-line of ritual to help us through.

But change is.

Now, please permit me a metaphysical moment here. (I often preface certain statements I make during my classes this way. Everyone seems enthusiastic for them. No, really. The students don’t even roll their eyes, and many of them are in high school.) Anyway, it’s not that deep. One of my spiritual names is “Changing Woman.” The subject of how I got that name is for a later post. But, as Changing Woman, I’d like to say that, golly, change can be fun. I like to change. Ok. Sometimes I hate it. And sometimes I am lost and alone in my fears. But coming from a place of Now, when I’m not lost and alone in my fears, having just eaten a homemade pumpkin muffin with my mate right behind me reading a magazine and my puppy at my feet, I know the not-lost place is the truth of me.

Actually, sitting here writing this, doing what I love with those I love within arm’s reach, I am amazed to be able to access such joy after so much pain and heartache. It’s awesome, how the heart heals to rally again. And this leads me to believe that no matter what: heartache, sickness, fear, loneliness, ugliness, poverty and old-age, we can be Here-Now-Happy. Instead of fighting time (for what is a face, a boob, a waistline, against that force?) our energy might best be applied to the practice of letting go of the things we’ve outgrown. It is a practice, a discipline, and it’s harder than making yourself go to the gym three times a week.

Last year or so, I had the pleasure of meeting the great Danish ballerina, Sorella England. She is the opposite of spiritual laziness. She is, for me, an example of the spiritual beauty that we many attain when we have mastered the practice of letting go. I have never met anyone like her. She is old now, but maintains the regal bearing of a ballerina. Her presence is commanding, though warm and sexily mysterious. Her eyes are a tunnel of light. This is what awaits us, but we cannot get to there from here, behind the mask of frozen time.

A shining light in the eyes and a bag full of wrinkles might seem less appealing to some than the illusion of perpetual youth. But, you just have to see one person that’s transformed in this way to put things into perspective. Alas, forgive me, but it’s hard to write about transformation. It’s one of those things, like Family Guy, that you just have to experience.


The R Word

I think the first sign for me, the beginning of the end, was that I kept looking in the mirror, wondering why I was still dressed in that get-up: tutu, tights and various sparkly accoutrement. After years in this uniform, it suddenly no longer fit. I felt silly. I felt like a fraud.

It wasn’t my age, necessarily, or the fact that I was injured that made me want to retire. I had been injured before. It wasn’t a lack of love or ambition, which surprised me. I just remember working on a particularly challenging ballet and knowing that dancing was moving into a place where I could not go.

I felt like Sam Gamgee saying good-bye to Frodo at the end of the Lord of the Rings. Frodo boards the ship with Gandalf and the remaining elves to sail away to some far away magical land, leaving a teary-eyed Sam behind on the dock with the other frumpy hobbits. It wasn’t my destiny to get on that next generation ballet boat and I knew it with the knowing I have.

But the knowing seemed to stop there. I wiped my tears, plodded back to the shire and waited. I waited for over a year. I was alone and without distraction. I felt lost in a void. Out of desperation, I hired a career counselor. I bought an expensive computer bag and an even more expensive suit. I didn’t know where I was going, but I wanted to get there in style.

I went back to college, seeking answers, seeking direction, but there were none. Anyway, it gave me an excuse to leave the house. I went to Costa Rica and danced around the sacred fire. No answers there either, but at least now I was having some fun. So much fun, in fact, that I started making friends with the void, with the not-knowing.

Eventually, seemingly out of nowhere, a call came to teach. Not a divine call or anything. I mean, I literally got a call from someone to cover some classes. I had taught before, here and there, but always secretly resisted it. It was what those retired people did and I never wanted to be one of those. But now, after hours of back-to-back episodes of the Sopranos, I realized I had nothing to lose. I didn’t even have an identity. I couldn’t remember who I was, or more importantly, who I thought I was supposed to be, and that was just fine. Empowering, in fact. So I packed up my computer bag with a pair of sweats and headed to the studio. It’s been a good fit so far, until the next void, that is.

We think of retirement as a sort of death and it is. But what is death really? It’s just making room for birth. It’s just another transition. Dancing just changed for me, from the micro to the macro. It was a graduation more than anything. I had increased responsibility, but in many ways, it was a relief to not have to constantly worry about myself. In the giving of teaching, I feel more in my power than I ever did as a dancer.

Occassionally, the goddess still knocks on my door and dances me. She is gentle with me now. When she comes, I always oblige by taking a class or just a few whirls around the coffee table. She just wants to play. It’s kinda weird, after all we’ve been through, but it’s ok.

All is forgiven.


Super Hiro

Acrylic, oil and paintmarker on canvas by Cyrille Conan

Acrylic, oil and paintmarker on canvas by Cyrille Conan

Late one evening years ago, in a garden courtyard outside a church, I met a young Japanese man named Hiro (pronounced hero). Shortly into the conversation, we discovered that we were both dancers: he, a hip-hop street dancer and me, a ballet dancer. Though our forms of dance seemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, we had a lot in common. We shared the same passion. Served the same goddess. I confided that I was interested in choreographing and he encouraged me. Gesturing upwards, he said that I should respect my vision.

He said this as if one’s own vision were sacred. This was a revelation to me. I had always doubted, in fact had been taught to doubt, the mysterious goings on inside my head and heart. In terms of choreography, I tried doing a workshop. I tried to find mentors, only to be shot down fast and hard. In some ways, that early rejection was a gift. It made me focus on what I really wanted to say. Back then though, when I was taking my first few tentative steps out on my own, it felt harsh. Hiro’s words awakened something in me, as a kind word often can.

He looked me in the eyes and said I was a master. At the time, I thought, egoically, that he was saying, you, Tai Jimenez, are a master, but I think what he meant is that all of us are masters at our deepest level of being, even me, and that our creativity stems from that part in us all. Attaining mastery in this world is a matter of remembering who we are.

We bowed to each other and never met again. He left me with a humbling lesson in self-love. Why humbling? Because it resonated with a truth I’d almost forgotten and revealed all of my external striving to fit in and please others for what it was: superficial, childish and futile. How could I ask others to love what I did not love? Here’s a piece of crap. I doubt that it’s any good, but I hope you’ll like it. How could I have this attitude and then be freaked out when it was rejected?

Of course there is a time and place for constructive criticism, but what would happen if criticism was given from one master to another? People sometimes say that I always try to see what is positive in others. This is true, not because of some namby-pamby new-age idea, but because I want to see the intent of the inner master’s work. It is extremely rare that a work of art comes to us undiluted from the inner master. We are all struggling to make it more pure.

So, self-love is not immune to criticism. Just the opposite, because a self-lover wants to grow. After all, we don’t just create for ourselves, but to share with others. Self-love that is impervious to criticism goes by another word: self-esteem. There is a lot of talk about building up one’s self-esteem nowadays. I find it confusing. It seems to encourage this sense of feeling special. We all want to feel so special! It is fodder for the ego and a distraction for the soul. Ladies’ magazines tell us to pamper ourselves with indulgences because we deserve it, gosh darn it!

Now I like a new pair of pumps as much as the next girl and I occasionally give in to the expensive bath salts, but unlike self-esteem which seeks to be rewarded for nothing, self-love, real self-love… is not so easy. Self-love forces us to give up the illusion that something or someone will make us happy.

And how many of us are willing to do that?


Bitches Be Hatin’


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There is a beautiful woman who I met last year at Harvard. She started dancing late in life, but was very mature, intelligent, gifted and determined. She got a professional job within the second company of  the company of her dreams. (Second companies are like apprenticeships to the main company. Being in a second company, such as Boston Ballet II, is often a stepping stone into the main company.) Anyway, she got there and was appalled to find a toxic, competitive, petty environment. You know what they say: never meet your heros. She had gone there to deepen her experience of dance and to learn, only to discover that she was the one who needed to be the role model.

I have often heard the lament of Harvard students who, although extremely talented and capable of having professional dancing jobs, just don’t want to deal with the bullshit. They don’t want to be treated like children by a maniacal director. They don’t want to starve themselves thin. And they don’t want to deal with bitches that be hatin’.

I guess like any profession, dancing has its positives and negatives. Everyone who has made it to that point is hungry. Things can get nasty. But does it really have to be that way? Is dance just taking itself too damn seriously? I remember Judith Fugate, an awesome ballerina with New York City Ballet, bringing the energy of the studio back down to earth. She would remind us to relax. After all, it’s only ballet.

On the upside, I must say that there is a new generation of directors who aren’t crazy. One of the people I loved working with, and who has a reputation for being crazy in a good way, was Mark Morris. He treats his dancers with the utmost respect and if he has to call someone out, it is always to serve the truth that is in their best interest.

I’m sorry, but being a temperamental angst-ridden artist can no longer be used as an excuse to mistreat people. I always wanted the studio to feel like a temple. I liked to get to class extra early when everything was quiet and still. I had this idea that dancing was between me and God. Now who’s crazy? I bet, behind a veil of incense, even some temples have their fair share of bitches.

Jesus taught us to love.

Can you imagine what a revolutionary theory that must have been at the time–that we actually had to be taught to love our neighbor?

And then, he showed us how absolutely terrifying it can be. To love.

I look at the Jesus story as a myth. Like Oedipus, it creates a worst case scenario. It’s supposed to terrify us, because extreme terror and tragedy are effective means of pointing us in the right direction. So what will it be?

Maybe, like the wind, there is no final say in this matter. There is just the choice in this moment. And in this moment. And in this. Until, eventually enough momentum builds and reaches a critical mass.

And we grow up.


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