April 27, 2023

Massage School, Work, Learning to Let Go

About the Author: Suzanne Wagner
By Published On: April 27, 2023Categories: Ballet, Blog Daily

Massage School, Work, Learning to Let Go


Massage School started Jan 1987, and the pressure is on. Not only do I have school and work, but I also have a young dog. While he is no longer a young puppy, he is only about a year plus. And still acts like a puppy.
My days are filled with me trying to get the dog long walks in the morning and rush home to get him out midday. Finish work, rush home again to let him out and give him and myself dinner, then rush out to massage school for the evening. Then come home, let the dog out again, fall into an exhausted sleep, and do the whole thing over again.
And the financial toll was enormous. The costs were sapping my savings, and I was struggling to maintain enough money for each month.
That year, I remember eating mostly crackers, cheese, mustard, and a bit of deli turkey for dinner each night as I did not have the money for a real meal. I remember eating oatmeal each morning because it was cheap, and a bonus was getting a can of peaches. I even had some dancers get mad at me for inexpensive gifts, and some were expecting more from me because I am always a bit too generous, and some responded to my gifts by feeling insulted.
Emotionally that was very difficult because I was so tight financially. And at that age, my character was not to let others know how hard things were and to do everything myself without asking for help and support.
The dog acted out and decided to destroy my living room sofa. I came home, and even though the dog was given lots to chew toys and barricaded into a very large kitchen with a doggy door looking into the large living room, he had decided to claw through the sheetrock between the living room and the kitchen to get out.
I come in from massage school, exhausted, only to discover the wall has a hole in it and the living room sofa has been chewed to pieces. Bits of foam and fabric are everywhere.
Now, not only do I have to fix the sheetrock and paint the wall, but I have to get a new sofa. And I don’t have the money for either.
I spent the night crying and sewing the pieces of my sofa back together and flipping the cushions over so the torn section was not so obvious.
At that point, I somehow find a book about stress at the library. It explained all the things that can happen as a stressor in a person’s life, and those things are given a number. If you are over 100 points, you are stressed. When I added up all the bits, I was at 700! Which was a shock.
I knew I was in overwhelm, but I did not realize how serious it was. I felt that I had no control over the events or circumstances happening.
I had to go to school and work. I had to deal with the dog, and I had no money to pay a dog walker or get help in any of the areas. My parents had made it very clear that this career was my choice, and when I came to my senses, they would only help if I went back and got a real job. And being a massage therapist (to them) was still not a real job.
Then to add to it, the stress at Ballet West was increasing. Logistically it was overwhelming.
You know that you are on the way out in a ballet company when the artistic director starts to ask you to begin doing things administratively that were never in your purview.
It started slowly, as he began asking me to tell dancers what he wanted from them and out of them.
This is something that I am never comfortable with because I know every dancer is always doing their very best. Telling them that what they were doing was not good enough and they needed to be better (which was what he was asking me) was not comfortable in any way.
There were a few things that I was always crystal clear about. I did not want to be a ballet teacher, and I did not want to be in administration. And after watching how Mr. Hart was dealing with those in his administration, such as the staff, rehearsal directors, ballet masters, ballet mistresses, etc., I knew that choosing that would make me completely miserable, and such an option was unacceptable in my reality. I would rather quit completely than feel like a bug being squished under his pounding fist-like personality.
While I knew I was on the way out, I did not want to show my hand yet, I was still feeling out the parts inside that wanted to stay and trying to help the parts with massage school that wanted to leave.
I loved dancing, but I was never built for politics in the positions of administration. I am sure there are Artistic Directors that are easier to deal with, but it was clear that Mr. Hart and I were not in a smooth situation. What was clear was that he thought that I had the ear of the dancers and that, because of that … he could manipulate them through me. He was testing to see if I would stand up in the role of being one of his flunkies.
What I never was, was someone’s “bitch.”
Nevertheless, while we were in Kennedy Center, he came to me furious at how the dancers were performing. He seemed personally embarrassed by our performances. He thought we were doing a terrible performance of Sleeping Beauty, and he demanded that I go in and tell those dancers that they were doing a “shitty” job and that he was horribly disappointed in everyone, and that they needed to pull it together and stop making Ballet West look like an insignificant company in the ballet world.
It was clear to me that what he was not saying was that we were not the Royal Ballet, and he was embarrassed to be directing such a substandard company and that we were making him look like an idiot.
He was incensed. His face was almost purple. I thought he was going to have a stroke just getting out what he insisted that I say to them exactly word for word. He made me repeat it so he knew that I would give the dancers the good swift kick in the butt that he wanted them to feel. Speaking … he was so furious that he was literally spitting as the words came out.
Such a type of anger is deeply personal. It indicates that one’s ego is in jeopardy. And a powerful ego (such as his) will fight relentlessly to get what it wants to be validated.
Rarely do I witness someone that is almost beyond having any sort of self-control. As I have said, such a thing is not done in the ballet world.
This was one of those moments.
I was trapped. I was being forced to do something that I did not believe and say untrue things. I knew the dancers were doing everything they could. I knew that his behavior was undermining their confidence, and that is enough to make any dancer insecure, and such a thing will lead to mistakes.
Nevertheless, I walked into all the dressing rooms and delivered the message … my way.
I cared too much for each of these dancers to deliver such hateful rhetoric right in the middle of a performance at the Kennedy Center. To do so would require a level of cruelty that I do not possess.
So, I went in and said, “Don’t shoot the messenger. I just got cornered by Mr. Hart, who is unhappy with our performance.”
At that point, everyone groaned or rolled their eyes.
I continue, “He asks us to do better. He knows that we have the capability to do better. We need to pay more attention to the details and become more refined in our movements. He thinks we are not doing enough or trying hard enough.”
At that point, I said, “So that you know, he said a lot more than that in not a nice way that I personally refuse to repeat. Just know that he is not happy or satisfied with our performance, and we need to pull it together.”

Then I said, “I hate to be asked to do such a thing and know that I think we are all doing a brilliant job under tremendous stresses that all the dancers are completely aware of.”
Then I thanked them for listening and walked out.
I hoped that such requests from him would stop at that point, but they did not. I knew that he was ready to let Sondra Sugai go. I was clear that her position was not one that I wanted or would settle for. This was not the path for me. He was looking for someone to replace her. Someone that he could control. And that was not going to be me.
We get to the scheduled weeks that are about the Ballet West for Kids Tours. This is where we go to the schools and introduce the art of ballet to students that would not normally get exposure to the arts. It is a fabulous program that went into the rural areas and hoped to inspire the next generation of artists in Utah.
This was a fabulous, State Funded program that made up a huge part of the yearly Ballet West budget. While it is challenging for the dancers from the perspective of long hours on a bus to get to very remote areas in Utah, to questionable hotels in the middle of nowhere, and hard, slippery gym floors or very small stages in gyms, it is fun because we get to see the beautiful state of Utah and be with each other under much less stress than performing in the big theaters or for very educated audiences.
It is a space where we can cut loose a bit and be sillier and more relaxed.
This cycle of the Ballet West for Kids tours was going to be headed up by Marrie. We were told that she was John Hart’s wife, but evidently, that was only for show in the very Mormon community of Utah. Only later did I discover that she was never married to John Hart.
Not that such a thing mattered to me in any way, but when you think someone is the wife of the artistic director, you know that what he wants her to do really matters, and so their actions have more clout.
Since she was put in charge of this project, it was a big deal for her as she was not a professional dancer, nor was she actually a real part of the administration in our world.
In all honesty, her being in charge was a bit of a shock.
But this program is not like putting on Sleeping Beauty at Kennedy Center. So, it was fine.
Or so I thought.
Now, you have to remember that the program was critical to the money coming in for Ballet West. It was a third of our budget at that time. While it was very important … it was not as stressful.
I am called into the office, and Mr. Hart wants me to work with Marrie to be the two Masters of Ceremonies for the programs. He was very, strongly, crystal clear that this was Marrie’s program and that I was to help her. But I was to know that she was in charge.
I see her proud and determined face looking to see that I really got who was the boss.
No problem! I got it! She is in charge! I am to be her flunky! Lovely …..
Honestly, I was glad that I was not the boss. It would have been another moment of them putting me in an administrative position that I did not want. I did not want to have to answer to Mr. Hart! I had no problem that she was to be the face of this project. And that meant that I would not be at fault if something went wrong. Perfect!

But I was to discover that “No good deed goes unpunished!”

As this would be my first time being the MC for the show, that meant that I was going to be talking rather than dancing.
I know that by now, all of you reading all my blogs, chapters, and articles don’t believe it, but back then, I was nervous to be on stage talking.
Okay! I hear all of you laughing out there! But it was true. So memorizing lines exactly (as was required by Marrie) was stressful.
I spent hours in front of a mirror reading the lines and looking at my face in the mirror to see how it looked. Yes, the perfectionist was alive and well, even if she was not dancing.
And I am required to know what the sequence of the performance was to be. Especially because I am the one in charge of the flow and the show. I take copious notes and am frantically writing down everything Marrie says.
Again, I have a sort of photographic brain for sounds, words, phrases, etc., so I don’t miss much, nor do I forget what I am told.
The rehearsals are so confusing that the dancers come up to me and ask if I know the flow of the show because they are very confused as to the sequence.
You have to understand that … to a dancer, that request is rare because they get it and know what the flows are most of the time.

I say that I am more than happy to write up my notes and then distribute it to them around the sequence.
So, I take time out of my day, go to the offices, ask for paper to write up the sequence for the dancers, and they give me the paper that has the Ballet West information at the bottom. So that paper looks sort of … official.
I type it up from my notes exactly. I make copies, and I staple them all together and give them to the dancers. They are relieved to get them and happy. I also give one to Marrie and Mr. Hart.

Within an hour, I am ordered into Mr. Hart’s office immediately!

I go down, not sure of what is happening.
I walk in, and Mr. Hart is sitting solemnly at his desk, and Marrie is standing with her arms folded across her chest to the side of him.
He starts waving this outline for the show that I had just printed up, yelling at me, “Who do you think you are? This is not your job to put together some official-looking document about our Kids Program! And besides, it is completely wrong! I have spoken in detail with Marrie, and you have not been listening to her this whole time, and you don’t understand the program that she has so carefully put together. And if this “official” document gets out to the schools, we are going to look like idiots because this is not the program that Marrie was intending to give them. You did this intentionally to make us both look bad, or you were just stupid! Which is it!”
I stood there, still as stone. I glanced briefly at Marrie, but she would not look at me. Preferring to look out the window in disgust.
I said, “I meant no offense. The dancers asked me for an outline of the show and the sequences so they would know which costumes they were to put on and what came next. I took the notes that I had taken from the meeting with Marrie to make the outline. It was just an outline to give them an idea of what the flow of the show was. I was not going over anyone’s head. I meant no disrespect to you or her. I thought I was helping!”

He practically snorted in disbelief at my answer. It was clearly a rebuff, and he did not believe me.
Then he said, “Assuming that you did this with the best of intentions … you still did it wrong … and this is unacceptable! If this had gotten out with the official paper from Ballet West, and this got found by the State government agencies that fund these programs … you could have jeopardized our entire budget for the year. Do you realize how serious this mistake of your “good intentions” could have been?
By now, I think he is being ridiculous. His sense of inflated ego is beyond anything I had expected. There was going to be no reasoning with him over this. That was clear.

He continues, “How many of these papers did you give out? How many copies did you make? How many!!!”

He is clearly getting himself into a lather about it.

I tell him the number of copies, and he demands that I get all of them back … Immediately!

I am to bring them to the office, and they will count to make sure that they have them all.
Then I am excused to go do it.

As I walk out, I think that this man is CRAZY!

And Marrie is not much better because she is not even taking any responsibility for what she literally gave me as an outline.
I go back to the dancers and explain that I made a very bad mistake and that Mr. Hart is ready to take my head off with an ax. I explain that, evidently, I had overstepped my bounds and that I had no authority to give them this outline and that, according to Marrie and Mr. Hart that I was incorrect as to the sequence of the show. And that I needed all the copies back or my name was mud.
Thank God the dancers just rolled their eyes and told me they were sorry that I was being put through this charade. They gave me their copies. I gathered them all up and took them to Mr. Hart’s office, where they dutifully counted them in front of me after asking once again if I was certain that these were all of them. Then they put them in the shredder right in front of me.
That was it for me. That was the last straw. There was no way to believe for a minute that I could stay here. I did not deserve to be treated that way. I had been respectful and kind. And I would be that way till the moment I left. But any respect I had for either of them was now gone completely.
It was the last straw, and I knew that my life had to be somewhere beyond the walls of this theater. And that a more peaceful life filled with respect and kindness was what I was seeking.
The magic had gone out of this place for me. While the stage would still be the stage, I knew that I could take that stage with me anywhere I went.

~Suzanne Wagner~

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