Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 


123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789


You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.


Filtering by Category: Dance

Strange Lands

Chrysta Brown

black-and-white-991996_1920A big bank just released a campaign with the following line, “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today. Let’s get them ready for tomorrow.”  When I saw it, a chuckle snuck out before I could muster up the will to be outraged. And I should be outraged. I should be offended and threaten to pull my patronage, at least, that’s what the dancers that make up a bulk of my Facebook newsfeed tell me. This advertisement is just one more national campaign that invalidates the important contribution artists make to society and discourages young people from careers in the arts, or whatever.

Here are the ways I’ve been compensated as a dancer from least to most frequent:

Cash Food Wine Class Workshops on how to deduct donated (free) labor from my taxes Networking Opportunities Exposure Experience

Here are the forms of compensation accepted by my landlord:


So when I see the advertisement with the young lady leaning over a complicated bit of science, what I feel is closer to envy than anger. To quote Roxanne Gay’s essay, “Strange Lands,” about why she decided against being a New York-based writer, “I’m not as interested in struggling or suffering as I once was.”  In fact, I cannot say, with full certainty that if someone were to approach me with all the expertise necessary to be an engineer or astronaut that I wouldn’t take the skills and request a very large glass of wine to pair with that bowl of porridge and maybe some cheese to go with that wine.

I would look back, though. I'm like Lot's wife, and the music-filled studio, the dimly-lit stage, the blank pages are all different rooms of home.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy of The Chronicles of Narnia were told at the end of book one, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.”  At the end of book three, they were lovingly, but promptly, kicked out. “You’re too old,” Aslan told them, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”

Though Aslan sent them back to the world of rainy, English afternoons and crowded train stations, he did not take away their crowns, wipe their memories, or reclaim his love. They become members of two realities, both royal and regular at every minute of every day, with the knowledge and experience from one world influencing their decisions in the other.

This multifaceted, dual citizenship is something we admire as long as it stays between the covers of the stories we love.  Once we take that same situation off the page, however, it warrants judgment.  The ballerina who finds just as much pleasure in putting together dances as she does in putting together computers is shamed and pitied, as if she, like the characters we strive to create cannot love the order of the office and the possibilities of blank spaces that exist to be filled with movement, color, or sound.  

The world is strange. It is calm and predictable in one moment, and uncertain and chaotic the next. We honor these things in our work. Perhaps, it would be a good thing to celebrate them in other people.  Perhaps, it would be a good thing to celebrate them in ourselves.

The Think System

Christina Lee

"Shipoopi" by is licensed under CC BY 2.0 Over the holidays, my mom popped in our battered VHS tape of The Music Man. This was my favorite movie as a kid. Somehow I never grew tired of watching Professor Harold Hill dupe the citizens of River City, Iowa.

Hill is a total fraud, but he’s so slick that the town believes his promise to form a boy’s band. Under his spell, the troubled youth stop being troubled, the tightly-wound maiden librarian unwinds, and the whole town gets together in the park and dances the Shipoopi. Everyone is too delighted to notice the lack of an actual band. He excuses away his lack of musical knowledge with “The Think System.” He tells his band, “if you want to play the Minuet in G, think the minuet in G.” The boys nod solemnly and warble in unison, “La de da de da de da de da, la de da, la de da…

Half-way through the movie, I realized I’d found my writing resolution for 2016. I’m giving up “the think system.”

See, the discipline of daily writing is grueling. Facing down a blank page at the end of a day of work is daunting. Submission is nerve-wracking and painful, and rejection is inevitable but still discouraging. It’s much easier to just think about submitting, or think about what it will be like once I’ve submitted, or think about which residencies I’ll attend whenever I find time to apply, or think about searching for a writer’s group that will help me hone my craft.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Father Zosima expresses this same idea when he says, “active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with the love in dreams.” He is, of course, speaking of Christianity, but the quote applies to writing, too, as it does to most disciplines.

I’m not saying writing should never be joyful. What’s life without a little Shipoopi? We must have moments of joy to cling to. A breakthrough in revision, an acceptance letter thanking me for “sharing delightful work,” memories of a sunrise kayak session at a writer’s retreat…I hope every writer has similar moments to return to on hard days. But those are the exception, not the rule.

At the end of the Music Man, Harold Hill is put on trial, and to save him, his “band” miraculously manages to squeak out a horrible rendition of the Minuet in G. After a moment of stunned silence, the parents of River City rise to give a standing ovation. They loved it! It turns out River City didn’t need music, when they needed was an experience. It’s sort of a beautiful, if illogical, premise. By believing so fully in his lie, the town has transformed it into their truth.

It’s a sweet and clever ending for a musical, but it’s not the way I want my own story to end. I don’t want my daydreams of success to become my best product or to give my own mediocre work a standing ovation and call that a happy ending.  

So this year, when I catch myself thinking about writing instead of doing the work, I picture the River City Boy’s Band, singing the Minuet in G over and over and never touching their instruments. And I get back to the real work, harsh and fearful as it is.

Weight for it

Chrysta Brown

Rebecca and Eliezer by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 17th century. The story was told to me with flannelgraph figures that effortlessly hopped from one point on flannel to the next. Abraham figured that it was time to find a wife for his son, so he sent his servant back to the old neighborhood to find a wife who had home-training similar to his own son’s. The servant prayed that the right girl for his master’s son would make herself known by giving water to him, his team and all of their camels. The servant made several turns that led him to Rebekah. He asked her for a drink water, and she gave it to him, and offered to get water for his team and their camels until they weren’t thirsty. This was a story about asking God for help with big decisions.

The night before my dance students were congregating in the lobby giving each other the type of hugs where one person is lifted off the ground and spun in circles. “AH!” one carrier exclaims mid-turn. “You are so light!”

“Hey, how much do you weight?”  I ask.

“Um…” the smaller shrugs, “eighty-something pounds.”

“Come here for a second.”  She walks over to me without hesitation. “We’re going to do a lift,” I tell her, and she agrees because she is a dancer and this is what we do to each other. We give, take, and share weight. She prepares to bend her legs in a pliè to help get her high into the air. “No, just give me dead weight.”  Her limbs flop and I hoist her up by her waist. 

“What are we doing?” she asks dangling in midair.

“I’m buying a couch tomorrow, and I don’t know if I can lift it. It weighs more than you though, so I’m really just preparing you for partnering.”  I laughed.

“Do you have help?” asked the girl’s mother, who was standing nearby.

I shook my head.  I was still new to the area, a recent transplant who hadn’t yet gotten all of the necessary home furnishings or friends to invite over to enjoy them, but I still had hope.  I put the tiny dancer down, and we all sauntered out into the night air.

The IKEA trip itself was uneventful. I’d shopped online and figured out where in the store’s underbelly my couch was and could therefore avoid having to meander through a store that is the size of some small cities. I could skip the carelessly blended together consonants that someone assures me mean things like “loft bed,”  “TV stand,” “duvet cover with clowns,” and the misleading sign that says shortcut, but really just leads to more words I do not understand.

In the warehouse, I held the cart in place with one foot and pulled then dropped the couch onto the basket. An IKEA associate jammed the about 60 percent of it into my Corolla and tied the trunk down. “Good luck getting this home,” he said in a tone that I perceived to be dripping with doubt.

To get to the door of my apartment building, one must walk about 30 feet uphill. It is hard on a normal day because there is no oxygen in the Colorado air. It is even harder when you have a couch. “You don’t have to carry it the full 30 feet,” my dad assured me when I expressed concern about how I was going to get the couch from the warehouse to my car to my apartment building to my actual apartment. “You only have to move it a few feet at a time.”

A few feet a time sounds like a nice idea when it is only an idea and  there is no actually weight involved. It sounds possible, before you actually have to attempt the task. Half-way through the task, it sounds downright stupid. I tried pushing. Then, after my straight path went awry and I almost pushed the couch into a bush, I tried pulling and end up ripping several holes into the protective plastic cover. I tried creating a sort of sled out of cardboard. The couch moved a bit; the cardboard stayed put. I tried praying. 

I adjusted the cardboard and hugged the frame and pulled it backwards. Adjusted, hugged, and pulled. I heard voices exit the apartment building, and I felt hope. It must have been how the beaten, and robbed man from the Good Samaritan story felt when he heard footsteps approach. The voice sighed. “Can I just get past you?” I let the weight of the couch lean on me and tried to make our join form small enough for the man and his companion to get by. I watched them converse around the cardboard, the plastic, the couch, and me. I watched them walk away. My heart beat several levels lower.

Here’s the math. A camel can drink an average of 20 gallons of water a day. A gallon  of water weighs about 8 pounds. There were ten camels. This makes for a total of 1,600 pounds. 

My questions are as follows:  How long did it take Rebekah to gather and carry over a thousand pounds of water? How many trips did it take for her to regret her offer?  Did it occur to any of the people within visual range to offer assistance, not because she was a woman, but because over a thousand pounds of water is kind of a heavy load for anyone to deal with alone.

I do not understand this story. The servant could have prayed for any type of sign and the story could have still ended with the desired wedding and moral intact, but instead, he prayed a prayer that placed a 1,600-pound burden on someone's shoulders and he stood by watched her suffer through it all by herself.

But she did it. She carried the water and did it well enough to warrant being someone's else bride and, according to an internet commentator I read once, she did so quietly and without complaining. She survived the burden, one gallon at time.

Reading as an Alternative to Injury

Chrysta Brown

10 medical boot During my junior year at a performing arts high school, there was an epidemic of foot and ankle injuries. This is one of the clearest pictures I have of that year: A group of girls sitting against the dance studio mirror with one leg crossed in front of them, and the other elevated on piles of ice packs. It could be the middle of that memory, but at that time there are at least four of them sitting there with their expressions straddling the line between looking sad and trying to look sad.I remember my instructors’ expression more clearly. They were annoyed. They would address us, the uninjured, and say things like “That’s why you all get injured. You’re not warming up properly,” or “Maybe if you would hold your arms properly your ankles wouldn’t hurt.” We would sigh and take it, adjust our arms, and save our sighs and grumblings for the dressing rooms after class.

These hostile attitudes changed a week or so later when one by one the injured girls limped into the studio wearing a sneaker on one foot and a large black and medieval looking boot on the injured leg. “Tendonitis,” they informed anyone who asked and sometimes people who didn’t. They would be unable to dance, climb stairs, carry their books and book bags, go through metal detectors in the morning, or show up to class on time for anywhere from six to twelve weeks. The girls once chastised and accused of simply trying to get out of a dance class where now praised for watching in padded chairs in the back of the studio. Occasionally, the injured few would perform the arm and head positions of the dance we were working on and the teachers would turn their backs to the ones who were dancing with their whole bodies to correct the partial movements of the brave and broken ballerinas. It was impossible not to notice the difference in treatment. I saw the praise, attention, and compassion that came with being hurt. I wanted that. I wanted an injury too.

Two weeks later, I would sneeze in the middle of a math class. When I went to bring my head up from the display, I found that I couldn’t.

“What is wrong with you?” my friend asked, cackling at my crooked neck.

I brought my hand to my cheek and tried to pretend that I was merely leaning on the elbow on the desk thoroughly bored with trinomials. Unfortunately, there were a good six inches between my elbow and the desk. “I think my neck is broken,” I told her. I went to the nurse, who wouldn’t give me Advil or call my parents. Instead, she attempted to cure me with her favorite antidote: a bag of ice cubes that would within ten minutes and send streams of icy water down my shirt.

The diagnosis was whiplash. Whiplash. From a sneeze. Not only is it a ridiculous way to injure yourself, but after that doctor’s visit and a conveniently tied scarf, no one would look at me and know that something was wrong.

The chiropractor nudged my neck back to its rightful place. She cleared me to dance before I could even practice my expression of grief with just the slightest hint of heroic acceptance. She sent me home with a special pillow, a set of exercises, and an ice pack stamped with the name and contact information of the office. “You’re a dancer,” she reminded me. “I know you don’t want to take time off.” I stifled a scowl. She knew nothing.

I think the thing that all bodies have in common is the ability to break and rebel, but not all injuries are external. They don’t all get casts, braces, or doctors notes. Sometimes they are covered with ace bandages, baggy clothing, smiles, or a cheerful “I’m good. How are you?”

In Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake, he talks about his motivation for writing. “Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think as much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don’t care about them. You are not alone.’”

Obviously, Vonnegut and I are talking about two different things. He’s talking about writing, and I’m talking about sacrificing the use of my limbs for a little kindness from my classmates and professors, but even so, I wish I’d read that book during that time period of my life. With the injuries that come with dancing and living, those seen and unseen, that information might have been nice to know.

Taking Advice From The Police

Chrysta Brown

enjoying-the-rain “I’m so tired, and I have so much homework.” In the space between ballet and rehearsal, I asked my student how she is doing, and I receive a diatribe about the hardship of being eleven. I’m tempted to tell her to wait until college when she tells me that that she has track and field day tomorrow.

“What?” How has this ridiculous tradition survived years of educational advancements? I am convinced that there is no day more pointless than track and field day. For one day in grade school, we were bussed to a school with a proper track, and, under the guise of testing our fitness levels, we spent the whole day running around it. Of course it was more involved than this, there are races of various lengths and styles and a long-jump competition.

My saving grace came in high school when the dreaded day came during rehearsals for Nutcracker. My ballet teacher called my high school and told them that her students wouldn’t be participating. With her aggressively animated South Philadelphia sensibilities, she explained that we danced for five hours, six days a week and didn’t need to spend a day running in circles to prove that we were physically fit, and with that, track and field was over for good.

I tell my own student this story when the subject of fitness testing comes up. “Lucky,” she says as she ruffles through her dance bag.


Sting, and the Police by association, serenade me on my way to work more often than any 20-something should admit. It’s “Roxanne” that they sing on repeat today. Sting tells her that she can change her life by changing her mind. It's a cliché piece of good advice that the band has set to musical excellence of the ‘80s.

My college classmates and I used to joke that a table is just another kind of stage and that a pole is just a different kind of barre. It was one of those jokes birthed from fear that we were only good enough for academic dance and not good enough to be actual artists. With that fear always in the back of my mind, it isn’t hard for me to insert myself into Roxanne’s headspace and see her as someone who could only see her obligations and not her options. What happens to a student loan payment deferred seems far worse and costly than a dream that suffers the same fate.

On a literal level, I think what I love most about this song is the advice Sting gives her. He could have easily told her that she was lucky to have some form of income, to use these humiliating experiences as fodder for her artistry, or that all of the bad things she was experiencing were necessary parts of the path to greatness. That is what we tell artists after all. The fact that Sting had to cross a street of prostitutes on the dimly lit walk from his sketchy hotel to his performance at a nightclub suggests that it was the advice he had received, but it is not the advice he gave.

There is value in persevering. There is honor is making a commitment and following through. But, as any non-athletic student who had to participate in track and field activities will tell you, sometimes the only thing you get for finishing what you started is a urine-colored participation ribbon that you’ll drop and forget on the mud-streaked floor of the school bus. As the song suggests, sometimes quitting can be the best and wisest course of action. Sometimes the best advice you can give someone is “You don’t have to do this anymore.”


 “Miss Chrysta,” my student asks changing her shoes for her next class, “can you write me a note so I can get out of track and field day?”

I’m tempted to tell her that the complete waste of her life that is track and field day is a rite of passage and an opportunity for growth not only as a student of the public school system, but also as an artist subjecting herself to artless standards, a fish being judged by its ability to climb a tree, so to speak, but I remember the grace that was given to me.

“Who do I make this letter out to?”

The Stream of Time, Measured Two Ways

Howard Schaap

16 basketball and ballet It was balletic—or that’s what some other parents suggested. My daughter had left her feet, had thrown a two-hand, over-head pass down the court to her waiting teammate who had made a layup.

“That was dance!” said the couple, who knows that my daughter has been taking dance much longer than she’s been playing basketball. “That was all because of dance!”

As a person who has almost always felt athletics and the arts at considerable odds with each other, I couldn’t have been happier with that comment.

Even though she’s fourteen, I still can’t help but feel like we’ve thrown our daughter into athletics the way I imagine some people throw their newborn infants into water: because we have heard the instincts are there and we want to put our children in touch with those instincts, force them to adapt so that they’ll be stronger and better in the end.

However, I choose this sink or swim comparison for another purpose as well: the water imagery. In general, athletics engages time differently than most art forms. Athletics is about the moment, the immediate; it’s about instantaneous perceptions and reactions; it compresses weeks and months and years of training into moments; it “squeeze[es] the universe into a ball.” In my daughter’s basketball game, she was thrown into the stream of time and the score measured her team’s reactions—valuing reactions certainly over reflections—against that stream as compared to the other team. Even clockless sports, such as baseball and golf, boil down to instantaneous reactions of the smallest fractions of seconds that make for achievement or defeat.

Art engages time rather differently. Often, art means to give us perspective, a wider view from which individual moments get their meaning. Art might attempt to create or recreate or freeze a moment in time, as in the crisis of J. Alfred Prufrock alluded to above, but even then the point is often that moment’s relationship to history or to the forces or character that produced that moment, preserved for us in art where it might impact history for hundreds of years.

We can see this time difference clearly in art works about sport. Sports films do better with story than they do capturing the sport itself: Rocky’s neighborhood and character are interesting; his fights are anything but “the sweet science.” Even “The Triumph of Death,” Don Delillo’s fictional retelling of “the shot heard ’round the world” that opens his novel Underworld, succeeds not because of the way it captures Bobby Thomson’s homerun but because of its wider vision of the event, more for the way it takes the variegated experiences of American life and coalesces them into a timeless moment than for the way it recreates the homerun itself. DeLillo himself knows this. Before the event, Russ Hodges, the actual radio announcer and DeLillo character who will himself momentarily call a piece of history, reflects on a Jack Dempsey fight he saw as a kid, “When you see a thing like that, a thing that becomes a newsreel, you begin to feel you are a carrier of some solemn scrap of history” (16).

Then again, maybe time is exactly what art and athletics share. The sweetest moments in both are when time seems to fall away, when time’s shallow stream yields to transcendence, or when we simply become aware of ourselves in relation to time in a way that puts everything back into perspective.

Both can do this. Yet my fear for my daughter, ballet-passer, is that, as the pressures of a sports culture loom on the high school horizon, the immediacy of athletics will predominate, that the slower truths and wider picture of the arts will get shoved to the sideline.

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishin’ in,” wrote Thoreau in Walden. “I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.”

In this month that attempts to house both March Madness and Lent, this is my prayer for my daughter: that she both swim in the stream, the whitewater of time that is athletics, and crawl out to the banks of the arts and know that eternity remains.

Life Imitating Art Imitating Pain

Chrysta Brown

Dancer's feet “Ladies, I don’t know who told you that dance was easy.” I use an admittedly unnecessary amount of force on the pause button on my computer. “You were misled.”

That, it seems, is how corrections are going to go today. I go back and forth with my intermediate students. Sometimes they need to calm down because “we are only doing pliès” and other times “pliès are the hardest thing we’re going to do all week.” I don’t think there is any logic or pattern to which days get which corrections. This particular class falls after a series of bad days. I am both pressed and crushed, persecuted and abandoned, struck down and one best-laid plan away from destruction, and so, in a "life imitating art imitating life" sort of way, pliès are hard today.

“You want to know what else is hard?” I continue.

“Life,” they answer in unison, and I am equally amused and concerned that I have conditioned them to answer this way. I wonder if I need to go away to reset, change my attitude, and come back with a more positive sensibility. Then maybe I can be one of those “Your pliè should feel like a rainbow glittered butterfly freely floating on waves of wind,” sort of teachers and less the “Dance is hard. Accept, move on, and point your feet” person that I am in and out of class.

Though the din of their aching muscles will prevent them from believing it, I am somewhat sympathetic to their plight. In fact, I give myself this same pep talk. A couple of days ago, it was me at the barre in a ballet class dripping with sweat and ready to clap, curtsey, and thank the instructor for an excellent class. This was after pliès (and it is here that I should probably mention that pliès are the first exercise in a ballet class).

“We’re going to do that again,” the instructor responded. She told us why and what to change. “This,” I thought to myself as the music began, “maybe the last class I ever take.” I don’t mean that in a “live every moment as if it is your last,” bumper sticker sort of way. It was more a realization that there was a pretty good chance that I was going to pass out before the class ended. I focused on breathing as my right arm floated out, in, up, and open. My hips and knees and ankles cracked harmoniously. My muscles joined and sang long, minor-keyed groans with each action, and then something wonderful happened: I did not break.

There is an Agnes DeMille quote that I am, in Sunday school fashion, trying to write on the door my heart. “Ballet technique is arbitrary and very difficult. It never becomes easy—it becomes possible.” Of course, I want to protect my students from pain. There are moments when I will go to great lengths to avoid it, but my dislike for discomfort doesn't change the fact that it exists.

The other day, one of my students raised her hand in the middle of class and announced that stretching hurt her. “Mhmm…” I nodded, and there was nothing more to say than that. Ballet is hard, demanding, and it hurts. The only way to get the flexibility and strength that dance requires, however, is to endure the pain, and the dancer that runs from it never sees anything become possible. Sometimes there are instances in which the cure for pain is to let yourself experience pain for just a little while longer. If you can ride it, out you just might surprise yourself with the realization that you can bend without breaking, after all.

Dancing the Big Question

Vic Sizemore

bausch.span A woman and a man are on a stage, hugging as a husband and wife in a kitchen late at night, comforting one another in some common grief. A man from behind walks around and moves their limbs like mannequins until the woman is cradled in her man’s arms. His arms slowly give way and she falls. She immediately jumps up and embraces him in their original hug. The man from outside returns, places her back in her man’s arms. He cannot hold her. She falls. On like this ever more quickly until the outsider is gone and woman is repeatedly hurling herself against her man, who cannot hold her even for a few seconds anymore. She jumps on him and crashes down. She jumps and crashes. This is one of the many unsettling scenes from Wim Wenders’ movie Pina, about late German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch.

Although generally critics appear to agree that Wenders’ moviemaking skills are at top form in Pina, it came in for harsh criticism for other reasons. For example, Joan Acocella in the New Yorker believes his use of her early work failed to do justice to the despair of her late work. Acocella also criticizes Wenders’ choice of filming many of the scenes outside. She claims that it removes the feeling of “no exit” that we would feel in a theater setting. “Once the torture is taking place outdoors, you think, Why doesn’t she just walk away from that terrible guy? Why doesn’t she go across the street and get a cup of coffee?”

A homesteader I once knew told me he did not fence in his goats. Instead, he strung a small fence around some of his fruit trees and vegetables, and the goats would stay of their own will, searching for a way to get to the fruit on the inside. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that it is a good representation of why the woman wouldn’t leave. Pina said what she wanted to portray in her works: “What are we longing for? Where does this yearning come from?”

In The Art of the Novel Milan Kundera writes that the novelist’s job is to explore the protagonist’s “existential problem.” This is what Pina does with her dance. There it is, the pieces repeat, just beyond reach. We damage one another as we hurl ourselves at it, but we do not give up. Is the portrayal of humanity’s dogged pursuit of connection one of despair? Or is it hopeful?