Author Archives: Tai Jimenez

Jelly or Jam?

Teacher: Are you a jelly person or a jam person?

Student: Neither.

Teacher: But if you had to pick between jelly or jam, which would it be?

Student: I rarely eat sweets of any kind. Sugar is–

Teacher: Ok, let’s imagine you’re lost in the desert for three days without food. Only water. You’re exhausted from fear, hunger and drastic changes in temperature. In the distance, there is a jam oasis to the east and a jelly oasis to the west. Which would it be?

Student: (thinks…) Jam?

Teacher: (playing for real) Oh, me too! I’m a jam person myself.

Student: (smiles)

Teacher: Did you see what you just did? You felt affirmed by my being a jam person. You attached your identity to the thing. If I’d said I was a jelly person, you may have felt a twinge of separation. You might attach suspicion to my jelly-ness. In this simple way, we are ravenously attaching our identities to every little thing, jelly or jam, feeling inflated by the things that are like us, and building a separation between ourselves and things that we deem, from a limited perspective, to be unlike ourselves. We do this instead of cultivating being-ness from within.

Your being does not exist only in opposites: jelly or jam, this or that. Your being has always known this. It rides the currents of choice, itself. In many however, being becomes dimmed or swallowed by all the noisy shoulds of the modern world.

With intention, being can be uncovered, mended. Become aware of your breath, your bodies, the wind and her sisters. Imagine. A conscious, loving touch is the stuff of being. Touch a tree. The earth. Let go of most of that which does not serve you. Start small. Ask for help when you need it. Do what’s right in front of you with as much compassion and creativity as you can muster. On occasion, dip into the unknown. Form a foundation, a family, of some intimate design.

When being is allowed to shine from within, “you” develops a lightness. Landings soften. Flow gets fluid. Fear diminishes. You can listen to you girlfriend’s favorite pop song without judgement. You no longer need to affirm your superiority through what’s on your frickin’ iPod. You might even find beauty in that pop song you once derided, if only because it reminds you of her.

When “being shines through form,” as Eckhart Tolle calls it, what once grasped now opens. What notices, gives. What loves, receives, and in all the vice versas.

When being shines through form, “you” are left with the knowing that you are it. You knew this as a child.

So,

jelly or jam?

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A Serious Poem about Butter

Remember when butter
came wrapped in quarters
with an expiration date
a year and a half,
a full Year and a Half!
from its date of its purchase?

Imagine that–
good butter
from July to the January after next,
and things even more wondrous than that:
water melons at Halloween,
people whose only job it was to deliver couches,
ice cream for dogs
and factories whose only job,
whose only job!
it was to make tiny, tiny, tiny
plastic toys.

Oh, you should have seen the toys!
Rainbows on every surface,
lights so bright you could spend a lifetime
never knowing a star
and music that you could swallow and swallow and swallow,
and never feel full.

Do not cast blame when it comes.
We all ate of that easy butter
like it was nothing.


Poem of Awakening

Oh Boston!
You are my lost city of sorrow,
lost city of light,
of illuminated minds,
illuminate our hearts.
Calling all cars: hear ye! Hear ye!
You make movies of mobsters
with whom we’ve fallen in love
because we see ourselves in them:
We are the underdogs of life.

Oh Boston,
You teach me to look down
when passersby pass,
to pretend we are invisible,
but I see your hidden heart in parks,
in the corridor of London Planes that line the Charles in witness of
your sad soil, your grit and insistence, armies of wasps,
your tribalism and no-nonsense attitude.

Today I was awakened at the Fort
beneath Rapunzel’s tower,
listening to the Grandmother-wisdom of willows.
I witnessed my own mobster movie of rebellion unfolding
from within.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I never thought I could love you,
your fields of broken glass
where things still grow.
Four years ago
I saw a woodcock
undulating in the shade of the
massive puddingstone of Thwing Street.
Our eyes met for a second and
I thought I saw the gaze of my teacher.
The keys, hidden in plain sight.


Finding Your Voice

“The final statement is not a deliberate one. It is a helpless one.”–John Cage

I’ve always been drawn to visual art. As a child, I poured over my mother’s art books. I had an ability to project myself into a scene, to inhabit its world and to immerse myself into a story. This was during a time when we were not so innundated with images. Art was an entry into the magical parts of my own being. It allowed me to experience emotions that, at that tender age, had yet to be named. I think the way art stimulated my imagination served me as a dancer.

There were two paintings in particular that captured my attention: Rousseau’s “The Dream,” and Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” In the first painting, I was drawn to that mysterious woman lying on a couch in the jungle with the tiger lurking in the bushes. It appeared playful, sensual, yet dangerous. It was very exciting to my young mind. I wanted to know what was about to happen. I wanted to be the convergence itself of woman, jungle and tiger.

The Bosch was more complicated. I couldn’t figure out, based on its vision, if the world was a good place or a bad place. It seemed to be both. This terrified and confused me. I stuck with it because I so desperately wanted to understand the nature of things and this painting seemed to hold some kind of truth to my own life.

Both of my husbands are artists. I took a course in art history at City College with a fabulous lady named Cher and have even recently taken a drawing class. That is all to say that I fancy myself as having an informal education in art.

Now, in the art world, from the beginnings of one’s education, the necessity of finding your own voice is emphasized. You can’t go around doing splatter paintings and expect to be taken seriously. Jackson Pollock did it already. You can be inspired by Pollock, but you have to dig deep into the recesses of your own soul and speak from there.

As dancers, however, this search for one’s own voice is rarely emphasized in traditional training. Most dancers, it is assumed, will be interpreters of another’s vision, namely the choreographer. We are trained, rather, to take direction. To listen. To fit into the line and stay there. To match a previously held standard.

This is especially the case with ballet training. I have a naturally rebellious streak and always insisted on doing things my own way. This often got me into trouble until my dear teacher Madame Darvash taught me an invaluable lesson: that it was my job to learn at least one thing from every teacher. So while I grew open to learning, to being smart about the process, to staying in line, I never quite lost my need to say things my way.

As a teacher of ballet, I try to encourage this individual expression. In my attempt to do that, I have to take a moment to apologize to the great ballerina Sylvie Guillem whom I’ve often used as the butt of a joke: I will often quip that her perfection of line and extension ruined it for everybody. But now I look at Sylvie in another light. I’m grateful for her contribution. She has in fact freed us. I’m not saying you should not get your legs up. I’m saying don’t try to be Jackson Pollock. Leave your own mark.


Abject of Beauty

…and the beauty of the leaf was not lost on him.—from Blood Meridian

Little children have a capacity for pure joy because they don’t yet know that everything is fleeting, mortal. They are still reverberating with the pulse of the other world. You can see it on their skin and on their eyelashes, like dew, and in the perfect, clear whites of their eyes.

As we grow, we inevitably come to realize the fact of death, and it forever shadows our experience of joy; true beauty has an element of sadness because we know it will not last.

I wonder if this is the reason why, in our modern culture, we have fabricated a sort of fake, superficial, soulless standard of beauty with our Kim Kardashians, our shopping malls, our manicured lawns, our home theaters and botox parties. It’s an attempt to experience beauty without its aftertaste of loss.

Of course it doesn’t work. But we will keep pretending.

It’s no wonder that art is a constant threat to a culture that cannot grieve.

The latest thing in Boston is that everyone is perpetually in exercise clothes. Customized sneakers and Lulu Lemons have replaced boat shoes and khakis. People are running along the Charles with a possessed gleam in their eyes. I suppose they are slimming down for their Match.com photos. They are polishing their armor with each stride.

I don’t get it. I walk slowly in the midst of things. In the mist. So I don’t miss. Things. The Is-ness that is everywhere. And my footprints become caked with the blood from my bleeding heart while knowing, damn well, it is the nature of a heart to bleed. It means you’re alive.

I look at my little one with awe. She is two. Her beauty has a translucent, shimmery quality. At times it seems that she is made of magic. While watching an episode of surprise eggs on youtube, she said with perfect articulation and fake exasperation, “It’s so boring. I want a cup of tea.”

I felt that familiar twinge between laughter and tears that only the coyote can speak. So, I texted our daughter’s words to my husband but something of the miracle of her budding language buds was lost in the writing of it which was probably for the best. My husband is at work and work is not a place where you can get all verklempt about such things.


Follow-up to the Peter Martins Letter and a Special Offer

get-attachment-1.aspxWell, it wasn’t that deep, actually. SAB sent me an email saying that mine was exactly the kind of feedback the committee was interested in. Did I still want to join? I responded, respectfully, no, but please feel free to contact me with any questions, etc.

As to the issue I presented, of me teaching at SAB, that was just a ruse. I could never teach there. My approach to teaching ballet is too different from theirs. They want to create dancers. I want to create an ecstatic moment of dancing. They teach one to master a certain style and technique. I teach dance as a tool for self-mastery. They teach people how to squeeze themselves into a certain look. I teach people how to love themselves as they are and to dance from there. They promote an ideal. I expose the myth. They teach competition. I foster community. They teach hierarchy. I restore sovereignty of self. They pick favorites. I acknowledge everyone’s medicine and stir it up good.

And sometimes, I play hip-hop. SAB ain’t ready for this jelly.

Anyway, some time ago, my dear friends, Kate Penner, Jun Toguchi and I put together a ballet class DVD. I thought, perhaps I can use this DVD as a tool to connect with students far and wide. Here’s my idea: I will mail a copy of the DVD to the first 100 people who ask. Then, you can upload a video of yourself on YouTube (it can be a private channel) and I will give you some personal feedback. It’s not the same as being in class, but it’s something, and it could be fun.

This is a free service, but small donations are welcome.

Please write to me at Piyung@aol.com with “Class DVD” in the subject line, and please don’t laugh at me for still being on aol. Ok, go ahead, laugh.


Letter from Peter Martins (and my response)

April 6, 2015

Dear Tai,

Greetings from the School of American Ballet. I am writing to invite you to become part of a very important program at SAB.

As a new component of our ongoing diversity initiative, we are currently in the process of forming a committee consisting of a select group of alumni who are active in the dance world. Members of the SAB Alumni Advisory Committee on Diversity & Inclusion will be asked to provide input to help shape and enhance SAB’s ongoing work to broaden recruiting, outreach, and student life programs, with the ultimate goal of increasing diversity on ballet stages around the globe.

I believe that your experience and insight into SAB and the broader dance world will be an invaluable addition to our efforts and sincerely hope that you will accept this invitation to become a member of the Committee for its 2015-2016 inaugural session.

SAB’s Diversity Program Manager, Leah Qunitiliano, will reach out to you next week to discuss in more detail the goals and expectations….etc.

With warm wishes,
Peter Martins
Artistic Director and Chairman of Faculty

*

Hi Leah. I have been giving the matter of whether or not to join the Diversity Committee some thought. With all do respect, if the School of American Ballet is serious about diversifying, they can start by hiring me as a ballet teacher. I am great.

This is not about me, and it is about me. Please tell Peter Martins that true diversity means the whole structure has to change. Is he ready for that?

Sincerely,
Tai Jimenez
Former Principal Dancer of The Dance Theatre of Harlem
Former Principal Dancer with the Boston Ballet


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