The “Booster Shots”: The People Who Encourage You

If we borrow the metaphor from current pandemic, we can see that a booster is something that enhances and fortifies a positive quantity that has been given to us earlier. A booster shot strengthens the primary vaccine we have already taken. Sometimes in life, there are individuals who boost our moral, confidence, or ambitions, and these people are invaluable, because they give us that little extra dose of what we need to go forward.

Sometimes these people are professional, in an early stage of our career. The seasoned expert who sees something in the sincerity of your dreams and ambitions, who calmly assesses the actions you’ve taken and affirms you, tells you that you are on the right path. That person is invaluable, for they believe in you when others don’t and when the field you are in is fraught with challenges.

At other times, it may be someone from left field, so to speak, someone who is in a completely different area of life, but they are so fascinated by what you do and encouraging that it feels refreshing and cheerful. This person might ask, “Why not do that?” when everyone is asking why you are doing something. They might even suggest a grand idea to try out that you had never thought of before. Or when your pursuit seems complicated, and you are being given so much advice and there is so much to read up on, somebody tells you to just dowhat you are doing, without all the fuss and information overload.

There are those who advocate for simplicity, who simply say to go for it. These people will tell you the things you need to do to accomplish your goals, rather than all the ways in which your goals are difficult. They are cheerfully pragmatic, neither depressingly grim in the name of realism nor people who build castles in the sky in the name of optimism.

Something nobody tells you about aging when you are young is mindset. One of the most important and difficult things to do as we go through life is to keep a positive outlook and tune out all the cynicism and negative people around us.

Great literature and art can serve as a source of optimism during difficult times. Listening to a Tchaikovsky ballet suite can bring a sense of old-fashioned grandeur into our day. Reading some Oscar Wilde or looking at websites for tea rooms in London can bring a bit of necessary sparkle to the humdrum routine of paying bills, work, cleaning the house. These things are not simply helpful but vital to any artist or anyone who is pursuing a big goal. 

Recently, a rather arrogant individual who had no idea about the publishing industry asked me if I needed a venture capitalist to back my novel manuscript. When I reflected on it later, I felt incensed and outraged, because I realized something–I am my own venture capital! My creative work is my most important product that I have produced and am putting out there. Every artist needs to believe this, that they are their own venture capital, that their work is absolutely worthy and, most importantly, priceless.

Ballet: A Brief Reflection

In the past few days, I have found myself watching documentaries on famous dancers: Twyla Tharp, Rudolph Nuriyev, George Balanchine, and reading about them as well. In these documentaries, other great dancers have been featured, such as the stunning Suzanne Farrell and the fantastically athletic trailblazer Misty Copeland. What is it that makes ballet have such appeal, centuries later after its roots in Italy, then France and Russia?

With ballet, we have beautiful lines in two ways. We have those classical lines with the body, and then the lines in which dancers are stood and arranged. Everything is elongated: fingertips are extended, the wrist line is never broken, and for those dancers talented enough to go on pointe, their legs are lengthened in a beautiful but very painful and unnatural way. Compared to modern dance, there is always a fluidity of movement in the limbs, as though one is moving through water, supported by some unknown force.

And then there is the legwork. The best dancers jump and seem to be floating through air, even extending their jumps with an extra beat that seems unhumanly possible. The power that it takes to launch a movement and the set up are quite amazing: watch how Nuriyev pauses for a moment before launching into a cycle of pirouettes. The legs can move the dancer slowly, or quickly, or alternate several times in the air depending on the demands of the choreography. All of this is based on years, decades, of devoted practice with pliés, ronds de jambes, and turnouts (I remember as a child watching an interview with Gelsey Kirkland and how she was able to turn her feet out at a more than 90° angle!)

Great choreography unites movement and music, and Balanchine was a master of this. For those of us who are very auditory and kinesthetic, there is something deeply fulfilling when we are spectators of ballet, for it feels like a very natural reflex to move in a certain way with a certain sound. The floating, sensual music by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and other classical composers is often what we expect, but even ballets set to modern music, such as by John Adams or Copeland–or even rock–are no less enjoyable.

The arrangement of dancers on a stage also creates very moving effects for the viewers. Whether it’s a solo, a pas de deux, or the whole corps de ballet, it is sheer fun to watch many people move in a particular way with repeated motions and shapes. This cascade of dancers and how they use their space is a delight that requires many resources, not the least of which is a sizable stage and sets that create an atmosphere in which these ballerinas dance.

And of course, one cannot neglect mentioning the costumes. The fabric is for movement–something that is unique to dance clothing. It is not enough for a costume to look nice when the individual is still; it has to create a certain effect when one dances and is in motion, when one leaps, turns, jumps, etc. (I admire fashion designers who create clothes that do this even for non-dancers, when one can put on a skirt or dress and see how the fabric is not still but takes on a life of its own.) Naturally, dance clothing has more stage appeal than ordinary wear, with glitter, satin, sparkles, and anything that catches the viewer’s eye from hundreds of feet away. The torso is usually slim-fitted, the arms bare or covered snugly, with the lower half of the body draped or fitted with a skirt that gives an illusion of floating or the tutu that is puffed out. With men, the costumes are usually completely fitted, even when there are pants.

Notice the different adjectives I have used throughout this post: beautiful, classical, elongated, sensual, etc. This is the illusion of ballet, which in reality is a very physically torturous, unnatural artform that makes many demands on the dancers’ bodies and psyches. There is often a very heavy price to pay. Misty Copeland has raised huge questions about race in the ballet world, and other non-white dancers have led the debate about what “flesh tone” means in terms of leotards and shoes. One cannot neglect these issues. However, there is something still so magnificently appealing about this ages-old art form which continues to captivate us. And if you’ve never been to the ballet, start with some videos of the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov or (when things are safer with the pandemic) a trip to your local ballet company to watch the annual Nutcracker production. The combination of Tchaikovsky and the parade of dances by different characters cannot fail to entertain you!