Sunday, April 30, 2017

Age and the Dancer

One thing that I was never prepared for as a dancer was dealing with aging. Dancing keeps you young, and in my early forties I was very happy with my looks. I thought that as long as I stayed in shape, I would probably look the same.  Once I hit forty seven, however, I felt like I was slammed with challenges. All of a sudden I had decreased range of motion in my hip joints, (down to 20%). I also experienced  extreme stiffness, and I had trouble sleeping. At the time, I thought it was the aging process. Now, in retrospect, I see that it was osteoarthritis, which is very common in professional dancers. It progressed at an alarming rate. Since healing from my bilateral hip replacement surgery, I feel thirty years younger. My range of motion is much better. I no longer feel stiff or have aches and pains. I am able to easily sleep through the night. Many of my dancer friends had told me that they were pain free after their hip replacements. I found it hard to believe, but it has become true for me, as well.

In the rest of my life, several things had  hit me at once. My brother had suffered a massive stroke at 49 and had died. This was a shock to the entire family. He had always been athletic, handsome, and fit. He looked like he was in his mid thirties until the end. It's strange when someone dies, and they don't get old. He never looked wrinkled or elderly. We would always remember him young, like Princess Diana. A couple of years later, my mother died, after living for many years with health problems. I was prepared for her death, but it was still traumatic. Because she had been in pain before she died, I was relieved that she was no longer suffering. Still, I missed her, because we were close. The third whammie for me was finally seeing an orthopedic surgeon and finding out that I needed to have both hips replaced. Although both hips were bone on bone,  I had been in denial for years. My mother had been telling me that it was arthritis, but I didn't want to believe her. I thought I was too young for such an "old lady" disease. She was right.

Going through menopause was a learning experience. I was fortunate in that I didn't suffer from hot flashes or weight gain. I did notice a big difference in my skin, hair, and face after age fifty, though. I used to look at some of the over fifty female female choreographers I knew when I was young, and wonder why their hair was so wild and messy. Now I understood, because mine looked the same way. It had become  much dryer and stiffer than it was when I was younger. It also was becoming very, very grey. I continued to use henna, because when I would let the roots grow out, I felt like a hag. I just couldn't do it. I felt like I looked like I was in my seventies with grey hair. Some people could pull it off, especially men. For some reason, a lot of the guys I know look terrific with silver hair. My friend told me about a powder you can buy on Amazon to cover your roots. It's called Wow. I bought a box, and loved it.  I found that  had to leave the henna treatment on for four hours to cover the grey. It did the job, though. 

The thing that really surprised me was the drop in libido. I did some research, and wondered if it was low estrogen. I had friends who were on hormone replacement therapy, but that really wasn't what I wanted. I went back to practicing Kundalini Yoga, and that was an instant fix. Kundalini Yoga moves the energy from the base of the spine up to the top of the head. It gives a radiance to the skin and face, and really makes a person glow. I have been working on a set called Awakening the Ten Bodies of Light. I am amazed at the benefits and changes I feel. I like it because it is natural. Certain foods can really help, too. Some of my favorites are pineapple, beets, garlic, onions, and chili peppers. They act as natural aphrodisiacs.

I also noticed my eyesight becoming weaker, and my memory was suffering. I bought some reading glasses, and they did the trick for my eyes. As far as my memory, I realized that I could still take ballet classes, but that putting myself in a professional level class was really causing WAY too much stress. I would feel anxious about remembering the combinations, and sometimes I would blank out or make errors. It was very unlike me. I used to be a quick study. But, it was happening. I started taking classes that were not as advanced, and began to enjoy ballet again. You respond differently to stress as you get older, and in my case, I no longer put myself in situations that make me feel jumpy or upset. When I was younger I would  push myself very hard. I  forced myself  to learn all sorts of styles and methods quickly. Now I work more methodically and enjoy it. There's no rush. I don't have to hurry or force it. It's a relief  not be so stressed.  


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Spending Time in Nature

Spending time in nature changes the way that we feel. When I first bought my vintage cottage, it had been empty for two years. It was surrounded by tall, flowering weeds and Bermuda grass. The front of the house  looked neglected and dilapidated. In my mind's eye, however, I saw potential. I wanted to transform it into a fairy tale cottage like the ones I had seen when visiting Carmel. They had made a vivid impression on me. What stood out to me about those little houses were the gorgeous front gardens. They were lush, healthy, and  individual works of art. People had all kinds of flowers in bloom. The feeling that you got as you walked by was so energizing and healing. They radiated pure beauty, and it took my breath away.

My first challenge here was to get rid of all of the devil grass, or Bermuda.  I researched a method called lasagna gardening, and used it to suffocate the weeds. I covered the yard with a layer of straw, followed by a layer of manure, and then a layer of wood chips. The soil improved as the sheet mulch broke down and fed the Earth. Instead of planting a lawn, I put in a cottage garden. I planted old fashioned flowers like hollyhocks, larkspur, geraniums, and lilies. I added some herbs, roses, window boxes, and hanging baskets. It really created a peaceful and healing atmosphere. I spend time every morning sitting out there with my dogs, a cup of coffee, and my knitting.  We watch the alpacas that live up on the hill across the street, and listen to the roosters crowing. I love the sound of the hens clucking excitedly as they lay their eggs. In June, I plant giant pumpkins, which give the garden a storybook feel. I have several old trees on my property, and they provide a lot of oxygen, greenery, and shade. They also help to keep the house cool.  

Anytime I am feeling off balance, negative, or not myself, I go outside and sit on the front porch. The air feels fresher out there. It's cool, soothing, and quiet. I can hear the birds in the trees singing, and the neighbor's goats down the street bleating. I am instantly connected to Mother Nature and her healing powers. Spending time in nature is free, and it's priceless. It helps to put us in sync with plants, animals, and our spiritual selves.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Company You Keep

Spending time with people we enjoy makes a huge difference in how we feel. People who are upbeat, friendly, and kind radiate a special  attractiveness and appeal. They are a pleasure to be around, and they create positive energy wherever they go.

When I was a teenager I met a  teacher at a ballet seminar who had a very buoyant energy field. She was so inspiring, and her enthusiasm uplifted all of us. When I was struggling to grasp the petite allegro, she gave me some valuable advice. "Stephenie, I want to you to sing to yourself during this combination," she told me quietly. "I love to jump. I love to jump," she sang to the melody that the pianist had played. I tried it, and it worked. Suddenly I had the combination, and I  developed the coordination. She showed me how to make it easy. I felt an instant sense of relief and gained confidence. My ability soared with her simple advice.

Teachers who are positive have great self discipline. They make a choice to focus on what they want, not on what they don't want. They are able to explain the details of what you need to do to make things require less effort. They can see your blocks, and they know how to remove them. They've been there, and they know what works.

My Aunt Mary was a person who always lifted my spirits when she walked into the room. She was a very funny, positive, and warm person. She remained single her whole life, and she didn't have any children. She was extremely generous to all of her nieces and nephews, and we adored her. She would bring us really fun gifts like candy cigarettes. (She was a passionate smoker.) We thought it was so hysterical to have a smoke with her. I still remember how pink they were, and how sweet they tasted.  I used to love to fix her a bourbon and ginger ale, and then light her cigarette. I was in my glory. Sometimes she bought us bags of chocolate coins. Her clever gifts were always things that we never got at home. They weren't expensive, but they were very humorous and creative. When we would visit at her house she would have a paint by number set for me, and a few model airplanes for my three brothers. It was so much fun to go to her home. She was a terrific cook, and she made delicious meals. Each visit with her was a celebration.

Aunt Mary always had an exciting trip planned, which she would look forward to for months. She would flip through the brochures from the cruise companies and talk about her next voyage to Alaska, or the Panama Canal. She would take my mother, to give her a break from raising four kids. My mother was ecstatic. Nobody else's mother in our neighborhood went on vacation from their family, but it really seemed to help my mom.

Each year Mary  bought season tickets to see the Broadway shows that were playing in San Francisco. She  got extras so that my mother and I could join her.  It was because of her that I chose the career path that I did. After seeing A Chorus Line, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to dance in Broadway shows.

When I think of the type of person I would like to be, I think of my aunt. She radiated a spirit of generosity and an enthusiasm for life.     

Monday, April 10, 2017

Eating Sensibly

When I was eighteen, I rented a room from a former ballerina who had danced with The Royal Ballet in London. Her name was  Rosemary Valaire. She was a very famous ballet teacher and coach in Santa Monica, California. I loved taking her classes and watching her teach. Her close friend, (the director of the ballet school,) Yvonne Mounsey, jokingly referred to her as "the sage of Mar Vista." She was a very wise and accomplished woman. Just being in her presence made me feel spiritual and hopeful. She had worked with many famous dancers and was highly respected in the ballet world. She and Yvonne were turning out a large percentage of professional dancers my age.  I liked being around her. It was exciting.

At that time of my life I was starting to become concerned about my weight. I had always been lean. I had a dancer's body, thanks to my gymnastics and early Cecchetti training. Once in LA, I took a part time job to pay for my classes and expenses. After I started working at Mac Donald's and eating their free food, I began to get  a little heavier. I remember catching a glimpse of my reflection in the large glass windows outside the studio and thinking, "Is that my butt?" I was shocked. I had never really had to worry about what I ate. I was getting to that age, however. When living at home, my mom had always been an excellent cook. She used to make dinner early, at about 3:00 p.m.   That way I could eat a large meal before I went in to the studio each afternoon. I assisted the children's classes, and then took my own classes  until 9:00 p.m. My dad would save me a second helping to have once I got home, which I really appreciated. It was always on the stove when I walked in the door. Everyone else was in bed, and the house was dark.  I loved her cooking. It was delicious and nourishing. I was fortunate that we had good quality meals: either meat or chicken, potatoes, and salad. She also made several delicious casseroles.   

Once I moved in with Rosemary, I had a whole new experience in the kitchen. Rosemary made a large salad every night, with homemade Italian dressing. I loved the fresh garlic that she pressed into the wooden salad bowl with her garlic press. I had never seen one before. She sprinkled the herbs on top of the salad  before serving it. It felt very European to me. She had two orange trees growing in her backyard. We were able to pick oranges whenever we wanted, and we could have freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast. I was enamored with the whole scenario, and vowed that I would have my own citrus trees when I grew up and bought my own home.  

Rosemary taught me not to diet, but to eat sensibly. We ate a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, and she brewed delicious French Roast coffee every morning. She liked her coffee very hot. She ground her own beans that she bought at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. She would heat the milk on the stove,and reheat the coffee after it had run through her Melita drip grinder. She placed everything on a fancy tray, and  and then would strain the milk through a small sterling silver strainer. I found the whole ritual fascinating. She had flourless whole wheat toast every morning. A few times a week she would scramble eggs, which were brown. We had always bought white eggs at our house. I thought the brown ones were prettier. She was a great example of a healthy and reasonable eater.

She explained to me that if you just eat sensibly, you don't need to diet. She bought delicious nut breads at Trader Joe's, and would have a slice of those as a treat with her coffee. She taught me how to make an apple pie with a homemade crust. She used butter, whole wheat pastry flour, and she made a lattice top. Her rolling pin was made of grey marble. Ours growing up was wooden. I thought hers was just gorgeous. The pie was delicious. I was very enthusiastic about learning her recipes. "You're a good cook," she told me. That just sent me. My mom had taught me well. If Rosemary asked me to make a white sauce when I helped her in the kitchen, I knew what to do. She would nod at me approvingly. 

Thanks to Rosemary and my mom, I never had to diet. Rosemary told me to stop eating "that MacDonalds," and she wouldn't allow it in the house. We didn't eat any garbage there. I kept up the habits I learned with her, and found it easy and natural to stay slim. Eventually I bought my own cottage in Los Angeles, and one of the first things I did was to plant fruit trees. When I got my first show and moved out of her house, she presented me with my own marble rolling pin. I think it was from Williams Sonoma. I showed it to my mom and she was very impressed. Now whenever I have a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, I think of her.