“Isn’t that right Roberto?” *

It was the summer of 2015 when Buddy became my scene partner.

A colleague of mine offered a free acting workshop that met for a few hours once a week. Knowing that I was going to work with a theater company the following season, I decided to take the workshop to learn the actors process.

We were assigned scene work, and guess what? I cannot memorize lines! Let me re-phrase that; I have an extremely difficult time memorizing lines when movement is not attached to them. I have performed and choreographed pieces with spoken word, but just memorizing a script, that is too much for me! My brain doesn’t think that way.

I found a solution in my seven-year-old son. I figured, the words on the scripts were simple and easy. I remembered Buddy needed to practice his reading over the summer. I knew I needed to memorize my lines. And that is how Buddy became my scene partner.


We practiced lines at home and in the car on the way to and from summer school. He would hold the sheet and read the lines while I said mine. And he would correct me every time I made a mistake. He even read as the character Pedro in an early version of the play “Ghosts of Lote Bravo” by Hilary Bettis. The play was making its world premiere during the upcoming season at my colleague’s theater company, and an early version of the script was being used in the workshop. I was assigned an age appropriate scene and decided to practice my lines with Buddy.  He was so excited about the part that he came to the final day of the workshop to see performances of the various scenes from the play. He had the lines memorized better than I did! HE gave me a thumbs up and said I did a good job. What a cutie!

*Quote from the “Ghosts of Lote Bravo” by Hilary Bettis.

Lift your HEAD, drop your SHOULDERS, nurse a KNEE injury, AND pointe your TOES: Returning to Dance

When I returned to technique classes after giving birth to my son, I remember crying in my car on the drive home every night after class. My body was different. It was new and it did not work the way it used to. My center was completely gone. I had no balance. I was insanely sore; most days I was so sore it hurt to breathe! And instead of embracing my body, loving my body for giving and sustaining life over the past year of breastfeeding and 9 months of creating a child, I cursed my body. I loathed my body, I hated my body. I wanted it to be thinner, more muscular, more flexible, and able to do the things it could do a few years ago. It was a long road back.

My pregnancy also caused a chronic knee injury that has sidelined me more than once and has almost made me walk away from dance forever. A knee injury aggravated by driving in a car or riding in a plane too long, or sitting in seminars for eight hours a day. A knee injury aggravated by heels. Gone are the days of my sexy high heel shoe fetish. A knee injury aggravated by walking my kiddo to the bus stop. A knee injury that I will nurse the rest of my life. Essentially relaxed ligament in the feet + spreading hips for childbirth = sciatic nerve pain = weak knee = knee injury.

When I was pregnant, my tendons and ligaments got all gushy, as they do with most pregnant women. My feet “grew” and my arches fell. My feet went flat, especially the right one. I was not aware of this particular change in my body when I went back to technique classes. I started training with my new feet, which led to many problems on the right side of my body including: an over developed vastus lateralis, an underdeveloped vastus medius,a tight ITB band, and an atrophied piriformus.  All of this resulted in the tracking of my patella towards the very tight vastus lateralis muscle when I straighten my knee.In other words, my knee cap pulls out of place (sliding up to the right) every time I straighten my knee. There is no cure. Surgery only has a 60% success rate and it involves detaching one of the four quadricep muscles from my knee. Bad news for a me. Bad news for any dancer. Making this injury worse, my bad right knee is even weaker because I have problems with my sciatic nerve, a tight common peroneal nerve, and a larger than normal degree of between my tibia, patella and femur (that’s genetic).  These days, dance is an uphill battle. I will be doing physical therapy for the rest of my life. Lots and lots of nerve flossing.I was told by an orthopedic surgeon, I am lucky my other knee isn’t giving me problems, yet…. I could be only a matter of time.

When my son was three years old, an older mother told me that it takes about six years after the birth of a child for a mother to get her body back. Three years in, I had finally, although begrudgingly, come to terms with my new body and was okay with where it was now. After years of training in modern dance technique, my technical capabilities were finally back to where they were and then some. I started training in ballet, which I had hated in my teens and during my time at the university. I have grown to love love the challenges of ballet technique these days. Seven years later, I can finally fit back into my pre-pregnancy jeans, although they are still a little tight and will never quite fit the way they did before. Hips spread for childbirth, what can I say? But I am much more loving and accepting of my body, my stretch marks, the saggy skin on my stomach, my canas, and my saggy pancake boobs. Because hey, my body gave and sustained life. And it can still fly across the floor with 14-year-olds…for now…

When my father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I made a promise to myself to continue to dance regardless of any company or choreography that I may or may not do in my future. Dance is a great way to exercise my body and my mind and why not do something I love to stay healthy?  I decided I would rather have a knee replacement in my future and stay active dancing than stop dancing and become less physically active, increasing my chances of getting a cancer (I already have a 50% genetic predisposition). And, surprisingly, dance is one of the forms that is least likely to aggravate my knee injury because it is done with precision and control. Technique.

Nowadays, I do my best to honor my body and use dance as a way to keep my body healthy. I try to silence the messages of the “ideal” dancer body type that my 5ft curvy frame will never be. I take things with a grain of salt and forgive myself in technique classes when I cannot get in and out of the floor as quickly as the 14-year-old I am going across the floor with.

It is a journey going on seven years with many more to come.

Shoulding All Over Myself

The morning is a bit of a mad dash at one point, but not too much different than when I was working at the University of AZ. I get the kiddo and I dressed and ready and out the door by 7am. I am headed to day one of a 3-day seminar for the EmcArts Arts Leaders as Cultural Innovators fellowship being held in my town. No dance clothes for me today. I actually get dressed and put on makeup. But it is relatively stress free and all is well. My hubby is taking off the next three afternoons to pick up Buddy from the bus stop and take him to his various after-school activities and help him with homework until I come home. Very helpful for me.

The seminar ends at 5pm and happy hour begins immediately right outside of the conference room door. I stick around for a while to discuss the material for the day and to (re)connect with some of the out of town fellows, since this is our last convening as a cohort. Tuesday nights is when I usually dance. I have a technique class and rehearsal tonight and though I let the teacher/choreographer know I’ll miss this evening, I’m still debating what to do.

My dance clothes are in the car. I really should leave by 5:30 to make it to class on time. Maybe I can push it to 5:45. I’ll see how it goes. Given that I literally sat all day, and sitting is the worst thing anyone can do for their body, let alone an (ageing? aged?) dancer, I should really go to class. I am just going to be sitting and eating the next three days. And I missed class last Tuesday for a grant panel, where I just sat and ate for like 8 hours counting the driving and the dinner. I haven’t been taking a lot of classes since my dad passed because I want to cry when I dance. I am not going to be dancing over the holidays because we are going out of town. I am really going to get out of shape. I really should go to class. I should leave in 30 minutes.

Time passes. Interesting, meaningful and important conversations are happening. Sharing ideas, building relationships. Politics, gender roles, cultural competencies, the arts. Suddenly, I am the only seminar participant from Tucson left. I get invited to the dinner that was originally intended only for the out of town fellows.

I should stay for the dinner. It is a great networking opportunity. And it is good food, free food.

All of these thoughts fly through my mind in half a second.

A few years ago, I would act on “should” without hesitation. The internal dialogue in my head about what I should be doing, especially in regard to dance and my company, dominated my decision making. But I am slowly learning to stop “shoulding” all over myself. It is a process.

I pause. Take a deep breath. As an INTJ personality type (the seminar participants are all given the Meyers-Briggs test), I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and turn off the internal monologue: “Shoulds” are calling, no shaming me into going to class/rehearsal; they are talking me into staying. I silence my thoughts and listen for my intuition. It tells me to leave and go home.

Without hesitation or regret, I do. Yet there is one more “should” on the ride home.

I really should drive the 40 minutes round trip to my best friend’s house to pick up the chocolate chip cookies she offered to give me because Buddy’s teacher’s birthday is tomorrow and I don’t have time to make or get a present.

But I don’t go. Instead, I join my husband and son at his elementary school’s holiday house. When I get there, my son has a present for me. Later, I have dinner with my family. Silencing my “shoulds.” I’ve made my decision.

Sharing a Stage, Saying Goodbye

It was a pop-up performance, outside, in a courtyard at a hotel in Phoenix. I was dancing by myself that Saturday. The piece started in silence but moved into music. Guerilla style, I brought my own stereo, I had no sound person. Nor did I have childcare. On top of all this, my dad had died the Tuesday before this Saturday performance, losing his four-year battle with cancer.

I originally choreographed the solo, “Ojos Negros,” in 2013 as an ode to my great-grandmother who passed away two days shy of her 101st birthday. The piece used a voice recording of her talking about death. The recording was from an oral history I did with my great-grandmother thirteen years earlier as research for a senior project that later evolved into my master’s thesis. In 2015, knowing that my dad was nearing the end, I dusted off the piece and prepared to perform it again. I wanted to hear my great grandmother’s voice and her wisdom about death as I said goodbye to my dad. I wanted her strength and the strength of my ancestors to get me through this time of transition and letting go.


There I was under the bright desert sky with wispy white clouds, dancing outside, my preferred stage, looking up for my dad, missing him, scattering the holy dirt of my homeland all over the flagstone of a hotel in the Valley of the Sun. Buddy was with me, just seven years old, and he was the one who ran the music for me that day. I trained him before the performance, during all those days when I would bring him to rehearsals with me, no childcare. He started and ended my music right on cue. When the piece was over, he joined me on “stage,” grabbed my hand, and together we bowed.

It was the first time I shared a stage with my son, performing a piece honoring our ancestors, a piece saying goodbye to my dad, his Grampy. And it was the best performance of that piece to date.

* photo by the Arizona Dance Coalition

I’m Not the Only One with a Show

The last week of March 2015. Tech week for Dancing the Mural. I have 5 artists flying or driving in from out of state: two of them arriving the day of dress rehearsal. I have pieces that are being finalized and set during tech week. I have dress rehearsal. I have long rehearsals leading up to the show. I have three fifth graders from a South Tucson elementary school and one community member performing with us. I have a crew that needs to load in and completely strike (as in take all of the equipment to an offsite storage unit) the show in our site specific location every night. I have a very heavy “mobile” stage that needs moving. My phone number is the box office number and I have tickets I need to print and a box office to organize. I have to make sure volunteers and front of house have things taken care of. I have to worry about security, costumes, and rides of artists. I need to make sure this mobile mural is finished and gets to the location of the performance. And I am also dancing in four out of seven choreographies premiering in the show.

I am the epitome of heroic leader, which by the way, is the standard model for modern and contemporary dance companies. One dynamic leader – a la Martha Graham, José Limón, Alvin Ailey – the driving force pushing a company, an art form, the dance field forward. The model has not changed much for the dance community since then. So here I am, juggling and struggling in an outdated model; a one-woman force carrying a company on my back, singlehandedly running a community-engaged multimedia art performance.



And my org was nominated for a Governor’s Art Award so I have to travel the 4 hours to Phoenix and back on Tuesday night of Tech week, in the middle of the madness, in the off chance that we win (we did not). And the EmcArts program, which I am now a fellow of, changed the date of the first Arizona seminar to the morning of the show’s opening, so now I have to attend that. (I show up late and the facilitators are not impressed.) I have a million and one things to do, fires to put out, artists to calm and reassure, details to smooth over. I am at my wit’s end. The house is a mess. I am a mess. Spread so thin. Being pulled in a thousand ways.


And I am not the only one with a show. Thursday morning, the day of dress rehearsal, at 9am, my son has a school play. The annual Easter performance. I never miss his shows, which usually run 2 mornings. Knowing full well I can’t make the Friday morning show (given that dress rehearsal will run late, I am directing/producing/performing in a show that evening, and I am already booked for this EmcArts thing), I go to the Thursday morning show.

It was a cute show. He was a roman solider. I was exhausted. But I arranged the company’s Thursday rehearsal schedule around that show so I could make it. I think I went straight to rehearsal after his show. I think I worked straight from 10am-midnight that night. I think. I can’t quite remember.

But I was there. Tired. Exhausted. But I was there.


You Look Happy Today

This past summer into fall, I worked every single day from August 3-October 3. I had a total of 40 rehearsals and 14 performances plus grants, photo shoots, out-of-town board meetings, production meetings, guest lectures, and award ceremonies. I worked straight through. No days off. All of Buddy’s after school activities – swimming, piano lessons, and tae kwon do – were canceled during that time frame because my work schedule was so intense that I could not manage with his regular activities. In general rehearsals were twice a day, 9am-noon, then 6pm-10pm. Saturdays were 3 hours of technique classes, then afternoon rehearsals until 6pm, Sundays 10am-6pm. I was never home. I did not see my family. The house was (is) a mess. There were many many nights that my boys ate cereal or worse, fast food for dinner because I was not home to cook. And, as I may have mentioned before, my husband may prepare a meal once every six months or so. I am lucky laundry was done.

August 3-October 3 was a long time. I was so sleep deprived; the dark circles under my eyes were so large and so dark my husband said it looked like I had black eyes. I was grumpy every morning. Sleep deprived.

It’s cyclical. The never ending workload, the crazy rehearsal schedules, all my time, energies, and talents essentially donated to small non-profit arts orgs. This cycle takes a consistent toll on me and my family.

After the last show I produced for my company closed, Buddy mentioned to me a few times in about a two-week period, “Oh you look happy today” or “You are smiling” or “You don’t have a mean face.”

I knew I was stressed, but I had no idea that my son was seeing me with angry stressed out faces for months on end. And that it had such an impact on him that he noticed the difference when I actually had a pleasant expression and smiled.

My poor baby.

In my experience(s), there is a lack of support systems for women choreographers, women of color and Latinas in the arts, and artist mothers. I am all three. I am torn because there are so few Latinas in dance and choreography working in the themes and aesthetics with which I work. I want to keep working, fight the good fight, and have a positive impact on the field. Yet, I wonder if it is worth it.

Perfecting the Mad Dash


Buddy and I have a saying to describe one of our mother son rituals. It is called the MAD DASH. Right now, we only have a Mad Dash every Tuesday. Last year, the Mad Dash was every Monday and Wednesday. When I have shows or an insane rehearsal schedule, like when I am working with a theater company, the Mad Dash can be every day.

What is a Mad Dash you may ask? A Mad Dash is when I have 30 minutes or less to pick up Buddy from school or an activity, drop him off at daycare or with his dad, and get to rehearsal or a technique class. It is a Mad Dash because Tucson is a city that is very spread out and the interstate does not run directly through town. That usually means red lights every half a mile at 35 miles per hour driving.

The Mad Dash can be very anxiety producing, stressful and involve a lot of yelling on my behalf. A Mad Dash may also involve some road rage on my part especially if the Mad Dash is close to a performance I am directing and producing, or when I have grant deadlines.

As an introvert who takes a long time to warm up and get in the zone to work and write, cutting up my concentration by running all over town stuck in traffic when I have a deadline looming is insanely frustrating because it is a large distraction (See Blog Post #1). The Mad Dash can also be insanely stressful, especially on days when I leave the house at 7:45am and won’t be returning until 11pm that evening. On these days, I have to be on top of everything: homework, piano books, water bottles, snacks, rehearsal bags with notes, music, costumes for dancers, lap top to get work done in parking lots, outside of speech therapy, or choir, wherever I can find a moment. Buddy has learned my “please turn green, please turn green” mantra I say to the lights every half mile. And he knows when I say “gas pedal” I mean “get your shoes on, pick up your things and get out of the door 5 minutes ago.”

Lately, however, with the whole company hiatus thing, my stress level is much lower these days and the Mad Dashes have been upbeat and something fun that we laugh at and joke about. For example, the Tuesday Mad Dash usually begins with Buddy racing his friends to the parking lot after choir rehearsal and ends with a guessing game about who will arrive first at the rendezvous point for the Buddy drop off at a Jimmy John’s parking lot, me and Buddy or my partner. The significant other usually wins.

Right now, that Tuesday Mad Dash happens between Buddy and my rehearsals. Buddy is in the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and studies piano so now he and he is also a performing artist with rehearsals and call times and shows. I was always sad that my husband retired from dance right after we got married. Now I think it may be a good thing. I can barely juggle two performing artists rehearsal schedules! I can’t even imagine trying to coordinate three! And between Buddy and me, I foresee many more Mad Dashes in the future.

Failure + The Tortoise and the Hare


It is 12:30pm on a Monday in February 2015. I am sitting in my incredibly messy home office, desk by the window, glancing out at the warm AZ sun. I have 1 hour before I needed to pick up my son from school. This call can’t go long.

I am on the phone with Tay and Val, two Singaporean documentary filmmakers based in Seattle. We are all going to be attending the first ever Community Arts Gathering in Ajo, AZ in March and Tay and Val are interested in me performing in their ever-evolving traveling project “Dreams Unlimited.”

That is when it happens. Tay casually asks me “What is your biggest failure?”

In Tay and Val’s project, they look at the 5 Fs that they identified as impediments to one achieving their dreams. I can’t remember what the other 4 were, perhaps funding, fear, or family. But it was failure that they ask me about. “What is your biggest failure?”

I tell them that in my personal experience, failure is not a big cathartic crisis where everything falls apart at once, like some Hollywood movie. No, for me, my days are filled with little failures that, over time, snowball into huge failures. And all of these failures have to do with my lack of balance between the million roles I play in my small performing arts company and my most important job, mothering my special needs son. The short fuses, the rushing him out the door, the lack of nights and weekends together, the hours he is in front of a screen while I am writing and administering grants to fund artists – grants where not even a penny of funding comes my way. Those little moments, the countless “hurry up, we are going to be late” and the short “I don’t have time for this” that I say to my son almost every day. Those are my greatest failures.

The Tortoise and the Hare

I’m at the Community Arts Gathering in Ajo, AZ. A day after I performed a compositional improvisation about failure and motherhood, I attend a workshop led by the Kimi Maeda whose performance Bend I saw the night before. Bend combined sand drawings and film footage to retell a true story of two men who were interned in a Japanese American relocation camp during WWII. I am most interested in her work with sand drawings; in particular, the physical movements her body uses to create the drawings. In her workshop participants, such as myself, are going to create sand drawings that illustrate specific challenges their communities face that can be transformed into desired outcomes. Great, I thought, sign me up!

For some reason, I am in and out of the workshop. It may have been for one of the five meetings I have this month with the education team that is evaluating my son for autism services. I may have stepped out to remind my ADHD husband to pick up our kid at a certain time and take him to daycare. It may be the talk I am giving about cultural competency and the arts, or the large org grant I have due this week. But most likely it is all the fires I have to put out given that my show, Dancing the Mural, is less than two weeks away and there is a mural that still needs painting, a frame for the mobile mural that needs building and the organizing of rehearsal and artists travel schedules that are not going to organize themselves!

But here I am in the middle of this workshop. I am sitting next to a woman who I just met. She is one of those people who have a vibe about them; a vibe like you have met them before. I felt like I knew her and there was a genuine calm and inner peace radiating from her aura.

Pretty soon, we are paired into groups and asked to share a situation where we wished we had acted differently. If you knew me, you would know that I don’t do that.

So here we are, getting all warm and fuzzy (barf!). Generally, in a warm fuzzy here-come-the-tear-situations, I stay on the surface. I don’t go deep. I do not like to open up. I do not like to be vulnerable. I do not trust people and I don’t share. If I have to share, I share a mundane story adding some bells and whistles to make it seem deep. I usually don’t share how I actually feel in those situations.

But for some reason, today is different. Perhaps it is because I did the failure performance the night before. Perhaps it is because my guard is down because I am so stressed out and busy with the upcoming show. Perhaps it is this woman’s aura and that feeling that I know her. I ended up actually telling her the truth. I shared my most vulnerable challenge: time and my son. Given my crazy work/life schedule, everything is timed down to the last second. It has to be. The only way I have a snowball’s chance in hell to get anything done is to have my day planned out to the nano second.

My son and husband are my complete opposites. My son once took two hours – TWO HOURS – to eat a meal. They take their time and time is not an issue. It does not exist.

How does this play out in my day to day life? With a lot of yelling. By me. At my son.
To hurry up. “Hurry up, we are going to be late!” “Five minutes, we have to leave in
5 minutes.” “Come on, come on, COME ON!! LET’S GO!” “We’re late, I told you so!!”

Oh my God! I became my mother!

So I share my “issue” with her. I shared that I believe my career is doing irreparable damage to my child’s self-esteem. And I know that the fact that he takes his time is a part of his disability. Unfortunately, the way I have structured my life and my career, I do not have the sacred resource of time to share with my child. The years are flying by and I am busting my ass and giving my all to other artists, sacrificing time with MY CHILD to run a small perpetually under-resourced company. My son and I have lost years that I will never get back. This is a young precious life that I must value to the fullest, but yet, if I don’t do the vast majority of the heavy lifting in my org, there would be no org. The org would fail.

And yet, the artists that work with my org have NO idea the sacrifices I make and what I have to do to give them the little that I can. Their expectations of the dance company’s traditional “heroic leader” are high and I am too under resourced, too overworked, and too underpaid. I cannot meet these expectations. And all the while, the most important person in my life gets yelled at because I am too busy. It feels like a lose, lose situation.

I share and yes, I am afraid she is judging me, as I fear readers may be judging me right now. I feel like a terrible mother who is choosing a career, a thankless career with no financial gain at that!, over my child’s wellbeing.

So I share all this with my newfound acquaintance while choking back tears and then I leave. I leave because I have something else to do. Somewhere else to be.

When I come back into the workshop, I find that my newfound acquaintance created a sand drawing story based on my “challenge” that transformed my struggles into a wonderful desired outcome.* She started out with a hare. That is me. Busy and always on the go. Then I gave birth to a tortoise. My son. A true child of the desert that likes to take things as they come. He moves slowly, observing the world and his surroundings like a leaf floating in the wind. A sharp contrast from his mother, a bulldozer with laser vision.

The third image is that of a rabbit/hare hybrid. That is a new and improved me. That is the me that I need to become to be a better mother. Retaining some of my hurry up hare nature while adapting to the needs of my tortoise child.

It is perfect and just what my heart needs. And yes, I cry.

*This “newfound acquaintance” in this story is Nicole Gurgel-Seefeldt who is also the editor of the MPA project blog.