The Countdown Has Begun

It is now May 5th.  Our show is May 22nd.  We have our first full run through on May 10th – that’s 5 days away.  FIVE DAYS!  I have only one more day to work on my piece before that.  We then have one more week to finalize costume details, fix any little bugs, and launch ourselves into hell week.  Erm, tech week.

I will attempt drive-by bloggings until then.

In the meantime, I would like to share with you the sneak peak video I made and posted to YouTube over the weekend:

Enjoy!

And if it leaves you wanting more, and you are in the Denver/Boulder area – May 22nd at 7:30pm – ONE NIGHT ONLY.

Click here to buy tickets!

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Beginning The Countdown

I have been fairly MIA in recent weeks.  Our training, commitments, and personal lives have simultaneously exploded into a frenzy after the realization of how much time we actually have left in the program – 6 weeks.  When I am not working on my final piece, I am cramming in as much training on my secondary apparatus and trying to take as many extra classes as possible, while still searching for contracts and planning what happens when it’s all over.

My attention was directed to work shopping my final piece in hopes of  having something presentable for the critique process, which took place two weeks ago.  I was worried I wasn’t going to make it through my piece, since every time I had tried to run it before the showing, I stopped halfway because I had either sunk too low on the chain, or simply ran out of strength.  Almost every day, I curse at myself for deciding to concentrate on a chains piece in the last 2+ months of the program.  Not only that, but I have chosen one of the more difficult ways to hang the chain as it requires a lot of brute strength, endurance, and pain tolerance, coupled with the desire to be “delicate flower” and not a hardened biker chic, and I’ve definitely pushed myself so far over my own physical limits that my body is cracking slowly.  (I took a rest day yesterday in an effort to patch those fissures, primarily the ripped callouses of my palms and punctuated bruising on my shins)

The week of routine showing/critiquing followed the Liz Lerman Process – a method of giving feedback that removes as much subjectivity as possible out of the feedback and is designed to promote thought in the artist.  For instance, rather than saying “i liked when you did transition A,” an audience member would say, “When transition A happened, I felt (insert colorful descriptor here)”.  Similarly, the artist had several questions prepped for the audience, such as “Were there any moments in the choreography that did not follow the same flow as the bulk of the piece?” or “The overall mood of the piece was intended to be angsty, does my costuming reflect that?”.  After this, the audience has a chance to ask questions, but again, removing any subjectivity/opinion/biases.  So, rather than asking “Why?” the audience would ask “What was your intention?”  At first, remembering the language was hard, and some had a more difficult time than others when it came to withholding opinions.  For me, if I really enjoyed an element of a piece, or a piece in it’s entirety, it was very challenging not to say “OH MY GOD THAT WAS FANTASTIC YOU ARE SO AMAZING!!” and remember to phrase it via Liz lingo: “This moment in the piece made me feel ecstatic, excited, nervous, and so very very proud of you!”

The process took an entire week, and was a big physical and mental drain on all of us.  Immediately following my showing, I scrapped about half of my choreography as well as my entire costume and started anew.  The piece of feedback that really struck me was this biker chic/Western vibe I was giving off, which is exactly the opposite of what I was going for.  Rather than being the dancer that manipulates the chain, I want to be the vine that grows around it, portraying a soft, yet free-willed movement that overcomes the relentless barricade of emotions.

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Still, it’s all starting to come together, and I am working on convincing myself that even as time ticks down quickly, it’s all going to fall into place as we approach show time.

Tied In Knots

It’s been awhile since I’ve released any sort of knitting anything, so I’m fixing that today!  I’ve had a few things sitting around, totally finished, tested, and proofed, ready to be published, except that I was missing something – pictures!  When I went home to Wisconsin last month for the funeral, I set aside some time for a photo shoot with Dark Moon Photography, one of my favorite people to work with behind a lens.

We have a few things we’re working on to be released soon.  I’ve also got a couple more patterns in the works that need to be tested before I can do anything more with them.  I’m so excited to be releasing this one, since it’s been sitting on the back burner, lonely, dusty, forgotten for the past 8 months or so (yikes….)  I’m wearing it right now as I write this post.

DSC_6733It’s like being wrapped in a hug all day.  I first saw a rib warmer in my lyra class a few years ago.  It seemed like the strangest thing to me.  The one my instructor was wearing was white, and looked more like a medical bandage than anything.  She wore it every class.  After a few classes, I had one mapped out in my head and immediately put it on the needles.

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I wanted something a little more interesting though – twisted and intricate.  Thus, the Silk Knot rib warmer was devised.  I called it Silk Knot because the cables reminded me of the knots I would tie in the silks I was teaching with.  Since this was the first of my circus-inspired patterns, I felt it very appropriate.

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This is the second of many circus and dance inspired patterns (the first released was the Lyra Legwarmers).  There are more in the works, and I finally have some space here to take pictures in, so hopefully it’s not months between releases.

Find the Silk Knot Ribwarmer by going to the Patterns page of this blog, or by going to Ravelry directly.  Remember to link your project to the pattern page so we can see how it goes!

The Art of Crying

Yesterday was really hard for me, but I felt some personal growth throughout the strains that I want to share.

Life is hard.  We are 3 months into this program, with 6 more to go.  I’m training and working beyond the point of exhaustion almost every single day.  But you’ve heard this before.  Basically, my life hasn’t changed much in the past 3 months.  I train, I eat, I work, I shower, I sleep, repeat.  It seems that this is going to be my routine until next summer.  Most days, I’m excited about this.

Yesterday, however, a series of events occurred that had me fighting to keep my emotions under control for much of the day.

Everyone in the program takes their training very seriously.  We each have specific things we want to gain from it – enough so that this was our homework over our holiday break.  I am not a soloist, for one.  Also, at some point in my teen years I learned I had a knack for making people laugh, and that when they laughed, I was less self-conscious.  My natural tendency is to become a clown, and this is something I enjoy doing in the air.  When I was taking a musicality class with Destiny Vinley at Aloft in Chicago, we were given scores for our improv.  I felt really awkward when I tried to be edgy or elegant, and totally relaxed when I was pretending to be awkward.  My creative process is to turn off my brain and find a flow in my movement, and I have the most fun and feel the most inspired when I’m being silly with other people.  This group I’m training with isn’t very silly, and it hit me in the morning during a conversation about our final showcase.  I became very frustrated.  I want to mess around, try new things, and maybe we create something and learn through the process, and maybe we don’t create something but we still have fun and learn from the process.  But what I see are the students working independently and offering critique and advice to each other, but no teamwork beyond that.  I want to run around the group, putting clown noses on them all and shaking them until they start to laugh.  You guys!  Loosen up!  We need it.  We’re getting too narrowly focused on our end game and not creating enough while we have the chance.  We’re constantly learning vocab and trying to recall it the next day, but not applying it to anything outside of class.

This conversation and the resulting frustration led me to feeling like I was on the outside of the group – the sad, lonely clown watching a party through the glass, knowing i can help but the door is locked.  This is going to take some serious strategics to find a sliver I can fit through.

Already feeling on the outside a bit, when I arrived at the studio, I found out about an impromptu gathering that would be happening after class – nothing major, a clothing swap – and I think I lost it.  While I was invited, work prevented me from joining.  I was angry, I was lonely, I hated everything about my situation.  I felt like I was missing out on so much because I was so focused on being able to be here – the working constantly and being a mother and trying to train hard.  I know that being a mother has set me apart from the rest of the girls in this program, that my responsibilities are heavier and my time not as spontaneous.  And, in the past, the fact that I am a mother has prevented me from participating in so much, and people stopped inviting me places because of that – I started to worry that it would happen again.

All through our first class, I was struggling to get a grip on my emotions.  The tears were right on the edge and I kept trying to blink them away.  Our next class was ballet, and that has been a struggle in itself for me, and the frustration over the fancy footwork brings me to tears, so I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it.  In between classes, I mentioned to the teacher that I was having a hard day, and I was drained physically and feeling lonely, and I didn’t know how the class was going to affect me.  She gave me a hug, let me vent a bit, and offered encouragement and support.  From there, I sat down between two students and began to talk to one about how I have been feeling.

The personal growth is that the rational understanding of events was right there as I was allowing myself to feel upset.  I knew the bulk of emotions was coming from being tired and feeling drained.  That was making me feel disconnected.  I also know that the others in the program are feeling similar, and no one really has time or energy to get together outside of the studio.  I also felt like it was ok, if not necessary, to cry and let out all of those frustrations, that there was nothing wrong about those frustrations.

Human beings are interesting creatures when it comes to our emotions.  We have a hard time facing them, dissecting them, and coming to terms with them.  We would rather tuck them away somewhere, guarded and then forgotten.  When we finally start to open up, we are surprised by where the emotions have been hiding and the flood that accompanies their discovery.

Several times in this program, we have had students burst into tears unprovoked.  Sometimes all it took was a push against the shoulder blade to open the chest, a stretch of the spine or relaxation of the hips.  We dropped some physical wall and the deluge of tears was waiting on the other side.  I’ve spoken to several people about this – athletes, body workers, massage therapists, trying to understand why it happens.  No one really knows why – just that it happens.  A lot.  And, when it happens, YOU HAVE TO LET IT.  GIVE IN.

For me, trying to relax into my center splits has been making me feel both nauseated and inconsolably depressed.  It doesn’t hurt to stretch into it, but once I’m down and leaning forward, the pit of my stomach feels heavy, like a water balloon is sitting in my pelvis.  The more I relax my hip flexors and psoas, the more I want to cry.  And others have seen it and urged me to let go.  Relax, whimper, sob – do what your body is telling you to do, because it knows what it needs.

If you don’t let yourself cry, the emotions are going to get stored somewhere.  You can’t rationalize them into nonexistence.  You can’t push them aside and expect them to leave willingly.  Your mind puts them somewhere else until it’s ready to handle them, or until you cannot contain them anymore.  But really, you have to ride them out.  Revel in the nuances of them, the ups and downs and backwards.

What I find the most interesting is that this program has been pushing me past all of my limits, but I’m still standing, excited and inspired, albeit exhausted now and again, and I think it’s because I am not pretending to be strong.  When things get hard, I let people know.  I look for a hug and I hold on tight, squeezing out all of the stress.  When things go well, I have people to share my accomplishments with.  When my body says STOP, I am learning how to listen, and when my body says THIS IS TOO HARD, I let myself cry and feel pitiful.  And only then I can mop up the emotions, wring out the sponge, and face another day.

Don’t think of crying as something weak, selfish, or unwarranted.

Think of crying as cleaning your brushes, so you can start a new painting.

Catch

We are wrapping up week 4 of the Professional Training Program, putting us at the one month mark for the nine month program.  Let’s check in:

Do you remember that shoulder injury I suffered in November?  The one that took me down for 3 months?  And how joyful I was when I was allowed back in the air?  While my previously injured right shoulder doesn’t feel at risk in the slightest, although it does have a tendency to get tight, I found myself overcompensating and trying to protect my right shoulder, and starting to injure my left shoulder.  This mentally pulled me back quite a bit.  I don’t muscle through push ups anymore, and I spend a lot of time massaging my left shoulder and working on stabilizing exercises.  This has been a frustrating process.  I want to remember what it means to be injury free, but I fear that may never happen again.  The only thing I can do is learn as much as possible about muscles, tendons, and proper stretching technique, and LISTEN TO MY BODY.

Physically otherwise – last week I was in a pretty doubtful state of mind.  I felt like I was going backwards.  I could do leg lifts up until my audition, and I could knock out ten pull ups like it was nothing, and spending 10-15 minutes in the air in one go was a piece of cake.  Since the program started, emphasis has been on technique and detail.  Sure, pull-ups were easy, but  was I engaging the right muscles in the correct order?  I was being forced to slow down and think about my movements more.  I’m developing muscles I wasn’t aware of.  Last week, I was having a rough time making it through 3 pull-ups, but that’s because I was very slow and controlled through the movements, engaging the muscles carefully, disengaging ones I didn’t need, preventing swing, arching, and other potentially hazardous efforts.  But last week, this wasn’t how I was thinking.  Last week I was holding back frustrated tears and tearing myself apart for taking a step backwards, as I felt it to be.

Since then, there have been a couple of light bulb moments as I learn in even greater detail how to engage muscles for efficiency of movement, and while I still can’t do a straight arm straight leg straddle up, I’m feeling the progress.

All month I was also struggling with my nutrition.  A pro-athlete diet is complex, and I can’t seem to eat enough food.  So, I started looking at what I was eating every day, and trying to figure out why, and what my body really needed.  I calculated my grocery bill for the last month and nearly fainted. Being vegetarian and athletic means paying extra attention to food.  In an average lifestyle, it can be difficult to get the proper nutrients daily.  I was becoming lethargic, moody, and starting to experience tummy issues.  I needed a change.  I’ve increased my protein intake and lowered my fructose consumption, and I’m adding a little more carbs in the morning.  My favorite snack has become peanut butter and apple sandwiches.  So far, my energy has been returning, but I still have a few kinks to figure out.

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Emotionally, I’m still a little bit of a roller coaster.  I’m reminding myself to breathe deep and that I am my own worst critic.  The major thing that is getting my through it is the group.  There are 11 of us, and everyone is sharing their frustrations, fears, excitement, and energy.  When I’m getting down on myself for my ballet work, I turn to another and say “I don’t understand.  This sucks,” and there are sympathetic looks and words of encouragement.  We are all bringing unique gifts to the group, and from the start created an open atmosphere, so sharing those negative feelings doesn’t feel wrong or embarrassing.  What I love is that we recognize the small victories in our classmates.  Joanna is really working on her pull-ups, just to get one.  And every time she tries, people are cheering her on from across the room.  Progress is not unnoticed, and that is vital in keeping our faith in ourselves.

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I’m sure we could all do this alone, but I’m also pretty sure I would be more burnt out at the one month mark if I didn’t have them beside me.  Having a strong group seems to be everything right now.  I trust them to catch me.

Why I Quit my Job and Moved to Colorado to Become an Aerial Dancer

Here I sit in Boulder, were I have been calling home for the past two weeks.  I unloaded my possessions and launched myself into the most intensive training regime I’ve experienced yet.  I spend around 30 hours each week in the studio, and more in my own home continuing the conditioning, as well as 15 hours each week working at a coffee shop that requires me to be up before dawn, and add to that the marketing I am doing for another performer, and I’ve got a full load.  It’s wearing me down – my muscles almost constantly ache, my mind is persistently active, considering the next task at hand, I cannot eat enough, and I still have a child to take care of.  When I’m not running a mile a minute, I’m a complete zombie.  And somehow, with all of this activity, with the pain and exhaustion, I find myself happy.  I feel strong, I am gaining confidence, I am in love with my new home, and I have faith that the end result will be completely worth it.

The training schedule goes like this:

Monday: 1.5 hours Ballet, 1.5 hours Open Gym

Tuesday: 2 hours workshop (nutrition, and later will be kinesiology), 2 hours technique (currently Sling), and 1.5 hours Fabric 3/4

Wednesday: 2 hours improv (Skinner Releasing), 1.75 hours Fitness, 2 hours Performance Seminar, and 1.25 hours Student Company

Thursday: 1.5 hours Aerial Fitness, 1.5 hours Pilates

Friday: 2 hours Improv and aerial dance history, 1.75 hours Partnering (Contact Improv)

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: 1.5 hours Advanced Static Trapeze

Danielle, our sling instructor, has asked us all to keep journals throughout the next nine months of training.  I have a personal journal, as well as this blog, so I thought adding another one would be too much.  So far, I have written one entry, but it turned out to be a pretty powerful entry.  Danielle asked us to think about why we are here – why aerial dance?  Why do we care this much?  Why are we willing to test our physical, mental, and emotional limits for the sake of dance?  And for each of us, there would be a different motivation.

That evening, I opened a new notebook, and the lined page stared at me for a good long time.  I picked up my pen, wrote the date and prompt at the top, and put the pen down again.  Why am I here?  Why did I quit a stable job in Evanston, Illinois – a job that was less than a mile from my home, with benefits and paid vacation, that allowed me to bring my daughter in when I needed to, that paid reasonably well and in which I got along with a fair number of my coworkers – why did I quit?  Why did I quit, pack up my entire life, throwing out or giving away 90% of my possessions, break my lease, and decide to spend the next two and a half months on the road, searching?  Why did I have a plan for every letter of the alphabet, but really only cared about plan A, which was to audition and get accepted to the Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Professional Training Program?  Why did I give up familiarity and stability to become what I have always attested I wasn’t – a dancer?

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I sat there thinking about it, with the quiet pressing in around me, at my glass dining room table, with my notebooks and papers spilling out around me.  And I thought about something I wrote in my application essay.  People listen to music; it’s an auditory experience for everyone.  But for me, I see it.  I see how I could twist with the melody, the rise and fall of equipment with the crescendos, transitions from the ground to the air and back.  The bodies rigid lines and writhing grace.  I hear the music and the music paints visions on my eyelids.

I am here because I need to move, because every time dancing has been taken away from me, I find myself falling into a spiral of anger and depression.  I never considered it dancing – it was moving.  It was an extension of what I needed to be doing.  In Milwaukee, just before I turned 21, I saw an advertisement for swing dancing at a restaurant/bar downtown.  I asked my friend, Liam, if he would be interested in trying it out with me.  He was thrilled.  Together, we leaned on each other through the struggle with time, feet, and dancing with a partner, and we both fell head over heels in love with not only swing dancing, but the community that came with it.  We started dancing as often as possible – a minimum of 2 nights each week, but sometimes as many as 5.  I loved the energy and the release from dancing.  I laughed often and created a circle of friends that was the strongest I’ve ever had.

When we moved to Chicago, I felt really disconnected from the swing dance scene.  I found most of the venues to be pretentious and uncomfortable.  I would occasionally head back to Milwaukee for dancing, but that eventually phased out.  I spiraled downward, into a bad bout of depression.  It was in this time that I discovered aerial arts.  Initially, it was a method for staying fit and meeting people; I never dreamed it would become such an integral part of my identity.

After my breakup, when my depression was at it’s worse and I was getting fed up with myself (not to mention how fed up with me my friends were getting), I needed a change desperately.  I allowed a friend to introduce me to blues dancing.  After my first night out, I was hooked.  This was it!  The music was soulful, deep and resonant in me, and I could move softly or dramatically, pull in elements of swing or allow it to be an entirely different manifestation of movement.  I was only dancing once a month, but it was the perfect anti-depressant.  I brought a couple friends along, and soon I had built another circle of dancers I could connect with, laugh with, and most importantly, share a moment in movement with.  It was then that I started dancing with my eyes closed, when I surrendered completely to the music and the dance.  There were a few leads I craved dancing with, because they would put their hand around my waist and we would be so close I could feel their breath on my skin, and I would close my eyes and trust the communication through our bodies to carry us.  It was the perfect moment when everything else ceased to exist, and more importantly, a moment in which I wasn’t alone, but had someone sharing it with me.

It’s only in the past year, perhaps having something to do with blues dancing, perhaps just a natural progression of my need for movement, that I started to stray from the “circus” path of aerial.  I would spend hours searching YouTube for videos of aerialists, looking for inspiration for my own choreography.  But I was bored with what I was seeing.  It puzzled me.  The aerialists I was watching were technically magnificent, they were graceful and articulate in their movements, but something didn’t pull me in.  And then I would find the video that I would watch over and over and over again, seeing new things each time and coming away with reams of inspiration.  What was so different about them?  i would watch their fingers and their toes, the way the small appendages were given as much intent as the large ones.  The “ta-da” moments were almost imperceptible, to be replaced with a languid fluidity that said to me “My apparatus is my limb and not my tool; it is a part of me.”  That, I thought – that is what I want to do.  I want to dance like that.

Really, it wasn’t until I was choreographing my audition piece for the Frequent Flyers that I understood the potential of what aerial dance could be for me.  Aerial dance being different than circus in ways that are still be defined – in ways that I can help define with my work.  I had recently been dumped by my partner of 5 years – and granted the last 2 of them were really shaky – it was still a shock to me.  I felt like i had nothing left to be in Chicago for – no partner and my job was making me miserable – so I packed my bags and resolved to go “ELSEWHERE,” and the only thing I knew for certain then was that I wanted to be an aerialist, and more importantly, an aerial dancer.  My audition piece was crucial.  So, I channeled all of the heartbreak, the anxiety and fear and depression, into my piece.  I work-shopped the crap out of it, until I was a huddled mass of human puddy on a mat, trying not to cry too hard.  I put my trust in the fabric, and by doing so put it into myself as well.  It was the moment when I needed it – I needed to fly, to move, to dance.  I could close my eyes and breathe, and in turn began to heal.

By the time I completed my audition, the heartbreak was mostly gone and a brand new direction had been found.  I was on a path that made me feel strong.  Not entirely secure, but my existence and happiness is literally tied up into the air.

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I am here, I am flying and dancing, because I allowed myself to finally surrender to what I needed.  I need to move, I need to stop thinking and stop feeling and find the moment, the tension and resistance and completely give in to it.  My apparatus is my partner, supporting me, loving me, sometimes hurting me, but always teaching me to be stronger, to be supple, and giving me a means for movement.

After what I’ve been through finding this about myself, the next 9 months seem like a walk in the park.

(Now, ask me in two months if it’s still a walk in the park, and the answer may be *slightly* different)

Day 5

This morning dawns on the fifth day of the Aerial Dance Festival, the wrap to the first week of classes and a weekend of showcase performances.  I am sore, tired, and slathered in tiger balm to ease the tenderness.

It has been an intense, satisfying, and inspiring week all around, and I have written volumes in my personal journal about the explorations and realizations I have had along the way.  I kept thinking I would write the synopsis here, but never could find the time.

I am taking four classes: single point low flying trapeze, handstands, invented apparatus, and Cyr wheel.  Its the handstands that are doing me in.  This is the most pressure I’ve put on my right shoulder since my injury, and yesterday I ended up skipping the class for fear of collapsing into my joint and injuring the tendons again.  Hanging from it, however, is not a problem and at times even feels heavenly.

Invented apparatus though – so many strange things to climb on and a surprising reaction to many.  When I saw that there was an aerial cube, I thought for sure that would be my primary focus, but I really haven’t spent much time on it.  I’ve been strangely drawn to the bungee bag – a sling with a bungee at the top.  It creates a curious relationship with the ground and the people on it.  I find when I start to climb or really wrap up in it, I just want to be reaching down.  And the bouncing!  Its rather addictive and entertaining.

The exercises we are working on in that class (and I’m sorry I don’t have any photos!) are then continued as I go to Cyr, where Sam Tribble has been reinventing the wheel and has the equipment set up for us to play on between class.

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I play on it several times a day, learning new things each time.  Can I lean this way?  What happens if I stick my leg out?  Can I hang from this bar?  I can’t get enough of the exploration.  Right now, I just look like a person climbing over an awkward metal ring as it spins, but there are moments, like in the photo above, where I find I can concentrate on lines rather than balance.

I used to say that you learn perCYRverance on the wheel.  I know – cheesy.  But its true.  You suck at it, for a long time.  And its this big heavy spinning thing you are trying to wield, which means you are also probably going to hurt yourself.  A lot.  And the only way to really become proficient is to pick yourself back up and say “So, the wheel does that when I turn that way.  Good to know!” It is a living thing.  A very stubborn living thing.  And we learn to tame it and move with it.  Like riding a horse – there’s only so much you can get the horse to do, and if the horse doesn’t want to move, you really can’t make it.

I have enough knowledge now of how the wheel inherently spins that I know when I can manipulate it, and I know that the only way to keep turning is to commit to your movements.  What this really translates to is knowing the only way to keep spinning is to really push for that next step, and oftentimes not being able to land it and a most brilliant wipeout ensues.  I have fallen more times than anyone else in the class.  I am covered head to toe in colorful bruises (only a couple actually hurt) and I end up with instances such as the wheel running over my elbow.  And I stand up, brush myself off, shake off the dizziness, and jump on for round 23.  I’m in the beginning level, because I guess I have low self confidence.  But my classmates have been coming to me with questions and telling me they enjoy having me in their class.  Its one thing to watch a pro show you what to do, and its another to watch your peer do it, and even more encouraging to watch them fall and get back up.

One thing that is different this year – and I really think its a change in me and not in the festival – is the camaraderie I’ve been experiencing.  Words of encouragement are everywhere.  Laughter and after hours gatherings abound.  I find I’m more connected with the community than I have ever been.  I think partly its that this place is familiar to me, so I’m not so shy (me, shy?), partly I think its that I’ve taken control of my path and feel worthy of sharing a cup of coffee with these amazing and talented people, and partly its the nature of Boulder.  I feel completely content and welcomed.

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I am constantly in awe that this is now my home, and overjoyed and grateful that this is my journey.

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