A Guide to Loving Ballet

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[my senior year of high school]

Do you like ballet? I have a deep, undying love for it. If I could help everyone in the direction of loving, or at least appreciating, ballet, I would consider it an honor.

You know how when you have an idea or a feeling that comes to you over the span of only a fraction of a second, but when you try to vocalize it, it takes several minutes? Some things cannot be expressed in words, which is news to no one. Ballet is one of the many ways humans are able to communicate, and in my humble opinion, it is no less important than any other form of self-expression.

I started taking ballet in second grade, and quit during my freshman year of college. Although I never danced professionally, my eleven years of training taught me the love of expressing myself through dance, as well as many, many life lessons. The discipline of the art, the musicality, the personification of music–every bit of it moves me. The professional dance world is a place I cannot personally comment on, other than what I know from other people’s experience. I know it has its drawbacks, but take away the negative aspects that come with striving for perfection in a competitive atmosphere, and you are left with the art of grace and beauty set to some of the most beautiful music ever written.

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[picture via]

I am thankful that ballet has taken more of a spotlight in pop culture today, with shows like Breaking Point, Dance Academy, and mini series like the ones produced by aol.com and Teen Vogue. Despite the occasional cheese and drama in these portrayals, I think it is good for the average Joe to know a little more of what it takes to be able to wear a tutu and pointe shoes. Speaking from personal experience, it takes a lot of bloody toes and blisters, for starters. Professional ballet dancers make very little money, and ballet as a whole relies mostly on the generosity of private donors to survive. Yet somehow it’s all worth it. The more publicity, the more appreciation ballet receives, the better off everyone will be. Yeah, I actually believe that. Even if you never take a ballet class, you can experience the joy of ballet as an engaged member of the audience.

Whether or not you love ballet, or you are being dragged into the experience because someone you know loves it, the more you know, the more you will enjoy it. If you don’t know much about ballet, and you have a desire to learn, let today be the day your education begins…

Here are a few things you may or may not know about ballet:

1) Dancing on pointe is painful

If you guessed that balancing the weight of your body on your toes is painful and challenging, you would be correct. While it definitely gets easier with practice and time as callouses form, wearing the shoes all day for class and rehearsal is the recipe for sore and blistered feet. The shoes are covered in pink satin, but on the inside they are canvas (and blood-stained…have I mentioned blood?), which rubs against your toes. Pointe-shoe-technology changes as ballet evolves, and improvements do come with time (for instance, more shoes are being made with other materials lining the inside, such as suede), but the overall structure is the same.

2) Pointe shoes are expensive

Most professional ballet companies provide pointe shoes to their dancers, but if you do purchase them they cost between $50-$80 a pair. For a principal dancer, pointe shoes can become “dead” (unusable due to wear) in the course of one performance. So, yeah, that’s a lot of pointe shoes.

3) There are a lot more aspiring dancers than there are open spots in ballet companies

Despite the fact that ballet dancers aren’t paid very much, the amount of dancers working toward a professional career is far superior to the number of positions available. The perfection that ballet requires, combined with the competitive professional world, means that a ballet dancer’s survival goes beyond just her talent and ability. It requires a great deal of mental stamina, as well.

4) Ballet has its own vocabulary

Every move a dancer makes can be broken down into a series of steps that he or she has been learning since the first day of class. As a dancer’s technique progresses, she/he continues to build upon what she/he has already mastered, until the entire vocabulary is learned. The ballet vocabulary is in French, and is universal. An American student could take a ballet class in Russia, and be able to follow the teacher’s instruction based on the French terms and demonstration.

Below are some videos to get you hooked on the art and beauty that is ballet:

Do you enjoy ballet? Are you/were you ever a dancer? What is your favorite type of dance? Should we talk about ballet again around here? 00

How to Change Your Life

change-your-life-quote1This year, all the voices in my head telling me that everything I wanted to accomplish before I die would happen later, finally became too much to handle. I don’t know if it was a random feeling that fell out of the sky, or a culmination of undetectable thoughts conspiring against me slowly for the past few years. But the truth that the only time I have is now, is finally taking hold. And now is all I will ever have.

 
These thoughts I had did not cause a panic, as perhaps they should have. Because underneath the layers, their message is freeing. And not in the sense that I feel empowered to do things I want to do. But rather, I am reminded that I can’t do everything, and I am not called to do everything. Because time is limited, and we live in time, and we are limited beings.
 

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us (J.R.R. Tolkien)-and that is the time we are accountable for. To-do lists and ambitions and goals must be kept in their place. When conquered, they are conquered in the present, enveloped by reality. And in reality, where dreams often go to die, is where things get done.

 
(I am not necessarily a fan of John Maxwell–I don’t know much about him–
but I like this quote out of context and as-is.)

How to start a blog (in 4 steps)

I don’t know if there is something in the water or if it is just a coincidence (I see no other options), but I have found myself in the midst of a lot of “starting a blog” talk recently. I love it when friends of mine want to start blogging. I could talk about the intricacies of blogging all day long. You think I kid.

I love blogging for many reasons. I love that it is a creative outlet where all my seemingly random ideas and projects can come together and live in harmony. I love that it challenges me to write more and sketch more and feel like I have some sort of purpose in doing both. Blogging is my own kind of therapy. Writing, especially, does my heart a world of good every time I put pen to paper. This is why I am excited when people tell me they want to start blogging: because I know that if they are anything like me, they are going to get a lot out of it. And that is exciting!

First, I realize that it is likely that the majority of people reading this post today already have a blog. So this is for the small portion of you reading this who do not have a blog but a) are thinking about starting one, or b) are curious about how one gets swallowed up in such a world (and oh, it is a “world”). I know you are out there!

If you fall into either of those categories: this post is for you. Today I am going to go over the bare essentials of starting a blog. In the future, I plan on doing more “blogging 101” posts for beginners. So, stay tuned if you feel so led to do so. There is much to discuss.

1) Choose a platform

There are many different platforms to start blogging in. I use blogspot (blogger.com). WordPress is another popular blogging platform. Blogger and WordPress are both free services, but there are also a few good options for those of you who don’t mind paying a small monthly fee in exchange for an instantly professional look (squarespace is a good example). 

Deciding which platform to use is based on many things: blogspot is what most of the bloggers that I follow use. I chose it for the simple reason that everyone I liked was using it. There is nothing wrong with wordpress, but I have used it before and I find blogger to be more user-friendly. Do some shopping around and take note of what your favorite bloggers are using before you decide. 

Note that while paid blogging platforms offer a better variety of starter templates (how your blog appears: one sidebar, two sidebars, etc. plus the overall look of the blog), blogger does allow a good amount of tweaking to make your layout look anyway you please (with a little bit of work). 

Eventually, you can become self-hosted with your own domain name, if you want. But to start out, using a free blogger service is the easiest way to go.

2) Choose a blog name

Once you have chosen a platform, create an account through their website. Lets say you have decided on blogger (can you tell I am biased?). Go to blogger.com and sign in with the google account you wish to be associated with your blog. If you don’t have a google account, create one. I created a new email specifically for my blog, but that is entirely up to you. Just keep in mind that whatever email account you choose is the one that will be receiving comment updates.

When you have signed in, click “new blog” and then you will need to create a name and url. This is possibly the most difficult part of blogging. Get a pen and paper, and ideally a friend or two, and start brainstorming.

Your blog name is very important. It is important for several reasons.

a) Once you create it, you can’t change it. (although, if you do change your mind, you can always create a new blog, and transfer your old blog to it.)

b) It sets the tone for your entire blog. Think of it as a thesis statement, of sorts. Make it unique.

c) It has to be memorable, and searchable. If your blog name is long or has words that are not easy to spell, people may have trouble finding it. And we don’t want your blog to get lost.

Start brainstorming with these questions: what is the overall theme of your blog? Do you have any nicknames? What makes you happy? A good play-on-words is catchy and personal. What are your favorite books and movies?

Keep in mind that when blogger asks you for the name of your blog, that can be anything you want, and you can change it later. Blogger will automatically make your “name” the header, which you can also change later. Your url is the part you cannot change later. However, I think your name and url should match. (here is a good example of the exception, however, where Joanna uses her name as her url, and her title “cup of jo” as her blog header/title)

3) Edit your layout

If you want your blog to get off on the right foot, you need to make it look good. It’s just the truth that blogs are judged by their cover. Your layout (graphics, fonts, pictures, overall presentation) is the first taste the reader gets of the author. Like the name, it sets the tone for the blog.

In blogger and wordpress, you will have to select a layout to begin. I recommend choosing the most basic one. You can always add to it! There are tons and tons and TONS of tutorials out there for editing your layout; both easy tricks, and complex edits. I plan on doing a list of my favorite small edits that make a big difference soon. If you grow impatient, however, check out Amanda’s extremely helpful collection of DIY blogging tutorials.

4) Now it is time for your very first post!

So, you are a blogger now. What next? Oh, friend: so many things. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. Isn’t that a fun thought? 

There are a lot of great tips out there from successful bloggers on how to create a successful blog, but possibly the one common denominator is this: be yourself. Sounds cliche, but it is the absolute truth. I am a big proponent of making the most of what you have. Whatever your abilities are, whatever you are passionate about, that is what should propel your blog. Successful bloggers are never successful because they are like someone else. Remember that. Your blog should be as unique as you!

So what do you write about? That is for you to decide. Preferably after much quiet reflection. Whatever you do, do it with purpose. That includes blogging. If you are stuck when you open up your first draft, I suggest starting with why you started a blog. Give your readers, and yourself, a summary of what will be happening in the future (as best as you can foresee it).

Most importantly, remember the following:

Blogging is fun but can easily become overwhelming. It is only as overwhelming as you let it become, however. No matter what, don’t be intimidated.

There is a lot to learn about blogging, but there is no good reason whatsoever that it should all be learned at once. Start small.

Anyone can blog. Anyone. If you aren’t a writer, I would ask you this: how do you know that and how can you be so sure? If you are definitely sure, then start a blog that doesn’t require a lot of writing. Visual blogs can be just as entertaining. If you have a special talent for creating weird art in Microsoft Paint and also happen to be a very funny person, then become a super popular blogger and get a book published.

After reading all the best blogging tips out there on the internet, remember that rules are made to be broken. If you follow a blogging “rule” that doesn’t make you excited, it will show. Above all, do what makes you excited. It might take a while to find what that is, but that is the only way you will find blogging enjoyable.

One last thing. You can blog for your own enjoyment, but you can also blog for money (the two should not be mutually exclusive, in my opinion). If you are curious about how you can make money blogging, this is a great post from Erin.

So, new blogger, the world is now your oyster. Go forth and do whatever you want with it.

For those of you who do not have a blog, have you ever thought about starting one? 
 
Bloggers, what are your tips for starting a blog? 

Favorites from Netflix and Hulu

Ah, winter. The season for settling in under a toasty blanket with hot tea and forgetting about work/life for as long as you can manage, guilt-free. I am always curious to hear what other people’s favorites are on Netflix and Hulu, so I am going to share a few of ours as of late. What are your favorites? Tell me your top picks in the comments!

We have yet to watch Breaking Bad (I know, I know), but I didn’t want to go down that sink hole until winter. But, I guess that time is upon us…


The Kennedys (Netflix)
I am sucker for historical films and mini-series, even when we all know historical liberties have been taken. The Kennedy series is no exception and stirred up some controversy over historical accuracy when it aired. My response? You shouldn’t be learning your history from TV. Period. As a dramatization of a complex and important family, I personally thought the series did a wonderful job showing the flaws of the family, while still capturing the mystery and attraction the Kennedy family that has enamored the world since. I got so attached to the characters, I found myself hoping that somehow, in this version, JFK wouldn’t actually die from that bullet. Spoiler alert: that part is definitely historically accurate. And also so moving–considering we know what is coming. Katie Holmes as Jackie, Barry Pepper as Bobby, and Greg Kinnear as President Kennedy were perfect in their roles


Derek (Netflix)
Some friends of ours told us about this show, and I am perplexed as to how we missed it as Eric is a big Ricky Gervais fan. I, on the other hand, am less forgiving and often find his humor a little off-putting (with The Office being an exception). In Derek Ricky Gervais plays an endearing childlike employee at a small nursing home. As in The Office, a seemingly boring environment becomes the perfect setting for hilarity and even sweetness. A lot of sweetness, in fact, which pleasantly surprised me coming from Gervais. Not devoid of his typical crass humor, it is balanced well by Derek and his elderly friends, and other members of the cast. If you are anything like me, you might laugh a lot and even shed a tear or two, and find yourself hoping the next season comes sooner rather than later.


House of Cards (Netflix)
I loved the first season of House of Cards for a few reasons: it takes place in DC, and from what I know from working on the Hill (and many of my friends who work/have worked in Congress agree): it is a pretty good representation of what happens in this city–and the honesty is refreshing, if not absolutely terrifying. If you want to understand what exactly makes this city and Congress so messed up, this is the guide book. I certainly do not think every politician is as bad as this show makes them out to be, but this is the story of the worst of the worst–and an unflattering depiction of the entangling power of power. Robin Wright plays the stunning, ambitious and complex wife of Kevin Spacey, the House majority whip with a very specific agenda. Closets full of skeletons masked by the superficial glamour of political life, endlessly manipulated by a few twisted people…what more could you want in a Netflix original series?


The Wrong Mans (hulu)

Eric and I are only five episodes into hulu’s most recent original series, but we love it so far. It is British humor at its best: ridiculous circumstances and plenty of self-deprecating humor. It is about two average guys, Sam and Phil, who involuntarily get involved in a hostage situation that keeps getting worse with every episode, that all starts when Sam answers a lost cell phone. It’s kind of like a less intense version of 24 if two not-so-bright guys were expected to save the day, instead of Jack Bauer.

What Not to Wear (Netflix)
Finally. FINALLY! I have been having withdrawals from this show since Eric and I took our marriage vows to love each other to the very end as well as never pay for cable TV. I have made it a habit of checking to see if this show had been released on Netflix about once a month, when finally my search was fruitful and I found that Season 9 and 10 had been released. I love this show more than words can express. I mainly love Stacy, and seeing the psychological effects of looking good flood over women as they see themselves in a totally different light. A seemingly superficial show that isn’t superficial at all, in the end. When it comes to style, this show gets it and I sure hope Netflix chooses to add more seasons.


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Ted Talks (Netflix):
Is anyone else addicted to TED talks? If you are unfamiliar with TED talks, they are basically short speeches (under 20 minutes), given by experts. It’s basically a bunch of smart people giving “the talk of their lives”, and they are so interesting and inspiring. So many of them are so good. I try not to watch too many in one sitting, because I want them to soak in. Netflix has the talks handily divided into different categories so they are easy to navigate and find one that looks interesting to you. 

Now tell me what we should add to our queue!