Lockdown Passion Project

Happy International Dance Day! Can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with the official release of my passion project from the last four weeks of lockdown!

Typically at this time of year, our team gymnast would just be finishing up their season and as a part of our end of year showcase, I always choreograph fun group routines for all of the girls to perform. This year was already going to be tricky with me being in New Zealand, but I had choreographed the entire routine, written out everything so the coaches back in Atlanta could teach the choreography, plus recorded videos of myself doing some of the harder to explain parts. But of course right after I figured everything out is when the pandemic came into play, so who knows if that routine will ever get performed…

But I still wanted to try and do an end of year group routine even if it had to be virtual. So I choreographed this routine and taught it to the gymnast via pre-recorded videos and Zoom calls and then had to up my iMovie skills to figure out how to mash it all together! It was a fun process, so much so that I’m trying to make another one to be released next month, and this time with more gymnastics and sign language!

Now here is the full video of JSG Virtual Group Routine: “Dancing With Myself.”

 

Brain Training

Today was a busy day. I taught my weekly dance class (with a dance that was way too ambitious…), had a virtual coaches meeting, recorded 5 different videos of choreography stuff, compiled all the pictures I could find of my family in a tree, and finally started editing an essay I’ve been procrastinating working on.

Today was probably one of the most productive days I’ve had since being in lockdown mode. It feels pretty good to have gotten so much done, but now I feel like my mind is totally checked out. I suppose people can only be so productive in one day and then eventually your brain just needs time to not think. I also think like most muscles, with practice the brain can be trained to handle longer periods of strain before needing rest.

These past few weeks I haven’t really been training my brain much and I’m noticing now the evidence of this lack of brainpower practice at least in terms of stamina. I’ve still been doing some brain work over the break, even if it wasn’t school-related, but I definitely feel like I’ve gone a lot of days doing less mentally stimulating work than I normally would be even over the summer.

I’m curious how this will translate into starting classes again next week. I was telling a friend today that it’s kind of nerve-racking the closer we get to school starting again. The break was so long it almost feels like we were in summer vacation, and yet we’re going back with the expectation that we still know everything we learned a month ago and that we are ready to start turning in assignments in the first week. It’s like we’re going from driving 0 -100 mph at the drop of a hat.

I hope it won’t feel that way once we get started, and I know professors are in the same boat of feeling this weirdness of having such a long break then coming back to school. It’s just very uncharted territory and I’m curious how our heads are going to deal with it all. Hopefully, I’ve kept my brain in-shape enough to get by because I’m not exactly imagining a smooth transition.

Mindset of a Historian

One of the more random projects I’ve found myself involved with while in isolation is finally organizing old gym videos. Jump Start is almost 9 years old now, so we have a significant number of old routines at this point. I’m trying to locate videos of all of these old routines and sort them based on level, song, and choreography (some times we may re-use identical routines or sometimes we just use old music but change choreography). This way in the future we have more options of old routines to recycle and also just more ideas for song selections.

This has been an annoyingly difficult process though, especially when there are videos that I know exist but I just can’t seem to find them anywhere between my computer, my mom’s Google photos, or old flash drives. For example, I somehow have old videos that are on my YouTube channel and yet I can’t find the original versions of these videos in order to save them to the Google folder we’re creating. Then on top of the videos I know exist but can’t find, I also know of at least a dozen routines girls competed, and yet I have no idea if we have videos of them. So I’m searching for something that might not even exist.

And I’m spending hours searching… How do you know when enough is enough? How do you know when you’ve searched every possible option? How do you convince yourself that one more hour of searching won’t make the difference?

I even went as far as manually going through our records of all team kids we’ve ever had and emailing past families to see if they had old videos they’d be willing to share with us. I’m seriously doubting I’ll get any responses on that email, but I had to at least try in order to start to feel like I’ve explored all my options.

This must be what historians feel like – always searching through the past without knowing if anything will actually be found or if there even is anything left to be found. I’m glad I don’t plan on becoming a historian.

Range Finder

For the last 10 minutes of our Wish For WASH meeting today, I encouraged our entire team to do a mini design thinking activity with one of the tools we used called “The Range Finder.” The purpose was for each of us to think about the timeline of different goals on our subteams; goals right in front of us, beyond the trees, and over the mountain. I thought with so much uncertainty and restructuring happening right now with the shift to virtual teaming, this tool would be a good way for us to check-in that everyone is on the same page with how we view our short term and long term goals.

The tool was so successful that I thought it would be good for me to do a personal Range Finder as well to consider what my goals are for while we’re on break from school (the three weeks still), once classes start again, and once we finish the semester.

Right in Front of Me:

  • Finish sorting through all previously uncategorized blog posts of mine.
  • Make final edits on our Wish For WASH design thinking in the sanitation sector research paper.
  • Edit 5 new gymnastics songs.
  • Have working drafts of the 3 assignments I’m able to get started on already.
  • Choreograph a new dance every week until our gymnast can get back into the gym.

Beyond the Trees:

  • Publish Issue 7 of Trailblazers.
  • Video edit Jump Start Gym’s first-ever virtual gymnastics group routine.
  • Host the virtual Design Jam Wish For WASH has tentatively started to plan.
  • Obviously, complete my school work…

Over the Mountains:

  • Explore whatever more of New Zealand I’m able to – Hobbit Town and the glow worm caves are specifically two things I’ve not gotten to do yet I really want to see.
  • Reconsider Trailblazers business model in order to be more sustainable as an organization.
  • Do more in-depth research into options for post-graduation (ie grad school or work first – and where)

Living in the Chaos

Somehow I managed to forget to blog every night last week. Well I would typically remember, but not until it was almost 1am at which point I decided it just wasn’t going to happen.

It’s been kind of a crazy week looking back. I was at a wedding in North Carolina; ran a SlackChat for the Pioneering Education community (kind of like a Twitter chat, but on a project management platform called Slack); had my first test of the semester; performed an acro routine and had the kids I coach perform group routines I choreographed at what ended up being a huge event which ended up going well despite my stress on how they were looking up until the performance; had my first advanced tap class and got whiplash from the combo to a song from Hair the musical; joined an intermural ultimate frisbee team and won our first game; and that leads up to now pretty much.

Some weeks are just so busy you don’t always get the chance to stop and look back on all that was accomplished. There was an unusually large amount of stress and chaos last week, but looking back on it, I think everything turned out pretty well in the end.

In particular, I’m really proud of how the gymnastics performances went. The routines performed last Spring were not so great, especially compared to the year before, so I really wanted this show to be better. It was a challenge because we never really had everyone there on the same day many times between breaks and the Taylor Swift concert… So the girls maybe had 4-6 practices total with me and some were as short as under 30 minutes. Then to add to the chaos I found out on Tuesday that we had one of our top level girls hurt her arm the weekend before, so I had to fill in for her with one practice before show day to work out.

In the end, there were obviously parts that could have been more in synch (especially the endings) but the routines turned out really well under the circumstances and all of the parents and other members of the audience seemed to really enjoy them. It was also the first time in Jump Start Gym’s history that we had every team girl present at the same time for a show. It made my job so much nicer because I could choreograph for specific groups and kids without having to tweak things depending on who had to fill in from my original vision. Plus it meant we could have 4 different routines, and even though it made my life harder trying to divide my time between groups, it meant that we had a much more fulfilling show overall oppose to having to just do one routine and then basics which aren’t exciting to watch.

Sometimes the hardest expectations to live up to are your own. Not sure that these routines fully lived up to those expectations, but I was happy with how they turned out and proud of the performance from our gymnasts.

If you care to watch them, I’ve added the videos below:

Learn for Next Time

Thank yous, pictures, flowers, and more: #showday

Well, everything happened, no one was injured, and there was applause! Some things today looked far prettier than others, but everyone smiled, kept moving forward, and helped put on a good show; for maybe 5 practices there’s not much more you can ask for.

31956441_10156445774303552_2616326306710683648_nToday was crazy with 25 girls in two group routines and one acro routine, but we pulled it all together and I’m proud of all the girls who participated today. I guess that includes myself since I also performed a basically level 8 acro routine today and that went pretty well. I did have to straight up muscle my partner into one skill because our timing was funny, but I made sure she got up and we finished the skill which I think describes today well: just make it happen and no one will notice if it happened not as planned.

It’s honestly another good performing skill of life. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but the key is to just make sure it goes at all. We can’t always expect perfection because that’s not realistic. We can and should strive to do our best, but most of the time there will still be something we wish we could have done better. Then there comes a choice: get stuck up on what went wrong and be upset about it, or acknowledge and analyze what happened and why in order to make a note of how to improve next time.

As I start to get my end of the semester grades back, I’ve realized the importance of trying to have the mindset of the later.

This year with routines I learned a few things from what went well and what didn’t and I think some can be applied to more than gymnastics:

  • don’t do too much all at the same time (I had learned before that acro should be spread out and made the correction and for some reason went back on it this year and learned it still doesn’t work well…)
  • take more time to understand the skill level of the performers before starting to learn the dance don’t strive for too many new things
  • if you love a routine but don’t have the people signed up you hoped for, don’t try to do the same routine with the same expectations
  • sometimes less is more; it’s okay if not every girl is in every part of a routine, people have their strengths and weaknesses
  • when levels mix they can sometimes be intimidated into being more focused which can be advantageous31944315_10156445774358552_3909090018034974720_n
  • remember camera angles and external factors that may not apply until showtime
  • sometimes performance quality needs to trump wanting to be nice/fair
  • prior level shouldn’t guarantee anything; you always have to prove yourself, you don’t just “deserve” things
  • it’s always different when everyone finally works together at the same time; more mandatory practices are necessary but scheduling in advance is key
  • don’t make assumptions/some people think differently
  • over communicating is better than confusion

Scaling Down

Today was the first day I worked with most of our team girls on the group routine. Turns out I may have been a little too ambitious with this choreography…

I was excited because our younger team girls are fairly advanced this year, so when we decided to have everyone in one routine, I left the same choreography that was intended for our upper-level gymnasts. I thought it would be fine because of our girls being advanced and whatnot, but I definitely fell into the trap of maybe dreaming a bit too big on this routine. Thus I was quickly reminded of the importance of testing and iterating on the fly.

Coaching today reminded me that while it’s great to be ambitious, dream big, and strive for crazy goals, you also need to keep in mind feasibility and sometimes scale down goals to build up to big ideas.

Luckily, I think the routine will all work out, but today definitely got me second guessing some decisions.

Something More

One of the reasons some may call me weird is because I love being busy. It turns out I’m actually more productive when I’m busy; I get so paranoid and anxious about making sure I get everything done, that I end up getting work done earlier than it’s needed.

Therefore, April is going to be a very exciting month. Today was the first week of me starting to work at the gym (Jump Start) four days a week and volunteering once a week as the acro choreographer for my high school’s production of Aladdin Jr. on top of my normal school work and activities.

As busy as my life is about to be, I’ve already been enjoying getting to work with the kids on their routines. I’ve realized this past year just how much I enjoy choreographing gymnastics routines because it’s the first year I’ve had to commit extra effort into being able to coach. Traveling back and forth from Midtown to Sandy Springs five times a week is not the most fun thing, actually, it’s kind of annoying, but getting the chance to work on these routines makes it okay.

I’ve also been more in demand then years past, with working on the Aladdin production just being one example, I also had an old team girl reach out asking me to choreograph her high school routine, and then had an interview with the Atlanta Ballet just a few weeks ago.

Before this year I never really thought about choreographing as a job, but it’s enlightening to realize little talents you have could maybe be something more.

Critics Make Me Better

Image result for danceMy sister is one of my biggest critics, especially when it comes to choreography. The funny thing is, I know she makes me better for it. 

Sometimes we need a critic around to tell us that are work isn’t the best and needs work, because that can often be the motivator for us to do better. I know that my work has immensely grown over the years I’ve spent choreographing routines, but I also know it can be so much better. I mean I’m not even a dancer, nor do I have any dance background officially so half the time I don’t even know the real terms for moves I’m asking kids to do.

And as I start to create more routines this year than ever before, my sister has been so kind to point out that some of the routines are repetitive when compared to other routines. Basically meaning that I use a lot of the same poses and similar combinations from one routine to the next, which is something I need to work on.

It’s in this kind of work that I take the book “Steal Like an Artist” to heart. I don’t have the dance background that most choreographers have, so in order to learn I’m constantly watching dance and gymnastics routine searching for new material to mimic. We do what we know, and we know what we’ve been exposed to, so if we hope to do more we must expose ourselves to more.

Next year’s spring showcase may be my last chance for my big choreographed group routines. I hope not, but I want to go out with a bang so I’m already preparing by searching for music and trying to think of new ideas and new techniques I can attempt like involving set pieces and trying to actually tell a story with the dance. I can’t wait to start testing my ideas! So I’m glad for my sister’s criticism because it inspires me to strive for something better.

Documenting My Work

Happy belated 4th of July! I spent this weekend with family in Tennessee and accomplished several things I’ve been working on recently: I made good progress on my 5th book of the summer, I finished choreographing more routines for next year, finished an application essay for a weekend program at a college, and I finally got all of the spring showcase routines I choreographed onto youtube!

So now I can finally upload and thus document my work on my blog (The last 5 I am in! And I know one of them has a different background, that’s because I don’t have a recording of the routine done at this meet but it’s the same routine and I still only just got it on youtube recently.):