Directing Troupes: To Audition or Not to Audition

by Monday, April 24, 2017
Today, Janet Taylor (formerly of FCBD and now an ATS free-agent, as it were) posted a blog about why she currently favors the audition process when assembling a tribal bellydance troupe. It's a thoughtful perspective, and clearly a very personal one based in specific past experiences--give it a read.  I particularly resonate with her assertion that the audition as a form of mutual discussion compared to other methods. Food for thought.

As someone who used an audition model for years, and now has an invitation-only model (what you call "always auditioning" model), I can tell you both methods invite the exact same problems to varying degrees. In inFusion Tribal, for years we chose to audition members. Our intent was to widen the pool of potential candidates, and for me personally I felt it valuable to give students the learning experience of auditioning. I am pleased to say that many who didn't get into the troupe came back after thanking us for the experience, grateful for the growth opportunity. Late we moved to an apprenticeship model and invitation-only model, which had its own pros and cons by comparison. What I have learned from different methods of growing a troupe over my 17 years teaching and directing this dance is this: No matter how transparent you believe you are being, people inside and outside of the process will bring their own interpretations of the results; and those who are hurt or offended by not making the cut will still make assumptions about your motivations, and may gossip and perpetuate a negative dialogue--to which you as a teacher or director may not be privy and thus are unable to address--regardless. It's par for the course any time you set up a goal post and not everyone is able to pass it.

For me, the major problem with the audition model for our purposes is it implies that demonstrated skill is the only criteria for entry, when I think we can all agree that there are a myriad of factors more subtle and difficult to define or codify--including personality traits--which play into the ideal troupe member. Now if you set up a skills-based-forward audition process, and someone nails it technically, but they create problematic friction or are otherwise difficult to work with, what are you left with? You are stuck having to explain why someone so talented wasn't invited, and no matter how you word it, the answer they tend to hear is "you don't like me". You literally have to be ready to tell someone to their face, "You have all the skills we're looking for, but we don't think it's a good fit..." or move the goal post on an individual basis and answer all the questions that follow.

Believe you-me, I wish that bellydance classes and troupes had a bit more of the professional standards of the Western dance styles and theater I steeped in growing up, a boon which would allow entering a troupe to be much more heavily-weighted in skill/ability alone because other factors would be a more foregone conclusion. The major difference here is that most people don't come to bellydance as malleable young women and men. Those dancers grow up in, and have their attitudes and expectations shaped by, that culture of long-established class and rehearsal etiquette, auditioning, developing a thick skin, the nuances of professionalism, etc. Instead, we are primarily a community built from adult learners, many of whom have never developed those skills or otherwise learned what it means to audition and be part of a functionally professional working group of artists. Add this to the fact that we are also performing a dance which relies on a deep trust and physical and emotional connection in order to be successful. We are left trying to not only bring them along in their dance skills, but also their interpersonal skills/ability to work in groups, and both are harder to influence/improve as the initiate is older.

Some "get it" right away and are fundamentally better candidates for working in a troupe based on their attitude and professionalism than someone who might be a better dancer but lacks those traits. You can audition the latter group, admit them to the troupe, and hope they come around; but if they don''s a lot harder to kick someone OUT of a troupe than it is to thoroughly vet them and filter out the problem-personalities before they get in. It makes auditioning very tricky...

Ultimately, a lot of what Janet addresses in her blog regarding gossip and mistrust has as much to do with overall class culture as it does the troupe member process. Teachers can't avoid gossip and hurt feelings at times in our student population, but we can mitigate it on a daily basis through our leadership in general, as a teacher, mentor, and director. Nobody is gonna get it right 100% of the time, and no system is going to end-run around the ultimate heartbreak of those who won't "get in", unfortunately. The best we can do is foster an environment of trust, honesty, and openness. We need to be welcoming of ambition, and be ready to address student questions as they reach for their individual goals as best we can.

Book-keeping woes - a RANT

by Friday, April 07, 2017
Why does Shay hate bookeeping? Let me count the ways.

For years I used Quickbooks, but it was way too much for my needs and very expensive to keep updating.

Switched to Quicken Home and Business, which required me to use Parallels or some other dual-boot/emulator program to run a Windows environment since they don't make it for Mac. It was great...except when it wasn't. It was slow to begin with, running things like that in the first place; and since I had to launch a whole different environment, I would often lag behind in my data entry because it wasn't just something that would pop open and work on a moment's notice. When I could no longer connect to my banks and had to start manually importing the data, which meant jumping in and out of my Mac vs. Apple environment to transfer files around, it became too onerous.

So for two years I tried Moneydance, which is made for Mac. I tried really hard to make it work, but it has always suuuucked. It isn't smart. It can't connect to anything, requires various plug-ins by third parties to attain basic functionality, won't let you manually control naming rules (so you have to rename clients/payees by hand every time), wasn't learning categories properly so I was doing that all by hand, too... So I thought I would suck it up, pay $65 and go back to Quicken, this time "for Mac" and not Home & Business, which they don't make for Mac. It'll be better since it's native, right? Plus I was thinking it would bring back at least SOME of the functionality I missed with H&B. Which it does...and doesn't.

Naming and auto-assigning to categories is smarter, though they removed any ability to create your own naming rules, which the Windows version has, so why not the Mac version?! It connects to my bank. Great! And Paypal! Great! only imports gross sales and you have to edit every single transaction by hand to split out fees paid out. So it is reporting I made, say $100, instead of $95 after fees--over-reporting my income.

Okay, I will just grab a QIF file export from Paypal--a Quicken format file--surely that will import cleanly. Nope, they don't support QIF any more. Okay, I will do a CSV. Nope, doesn't support CSV at all, nor tab delimited. Is there a way to convert CSV or QIF to QFX, the format it requires? Not unless you spend another $40 on a third party software to do so. I spend hours scouring official Intuit forums--a thinly veiled attempt at getting out of supporting paying customers by making us talk to each other about our problems while no one from the company comes by and offers any real solutions--trying to find out how to proceed. As expected, run into hundreds of users with the same complaints, going back 10+ years, and no solutions offered by Intuit.

So I decide to suck it up some more and purchase the third party conversion software for another $40. It is ugly as hell (designed by a Windows developer who doesn't care how it looks or functions, clearly), but it gets the job done. I have a QFX file of all of my 2016 Paypal activity! I create a second Paypal ledger to make my edits in so I don't muddle it in with any imports already done by the software. It doesn't do splits per transaction, it instead makes a "Payee Gross" and "Payee Fees" as separate lines, and does some funky renaming and non-naming of some payees. I spend 3 hours cleaning it up and transferring every transaction individually to the "real" Paypal ledger. And then I want to cry knowing that this is how I am going to have to reconcile my Paypal transactions... forever. Either:

a) Download a CSV, put through a converter, import into a second ledger, edit every transaction for accuracy, transfer to my "real" Paypal ledger by dragging and dropping. OR
b) Allow the program to automatically download all my transactions, open Paypal in a second browser window, then flip through every single transaction between the browser and Quicken and edit all the categories to include splits for every fee incurred.

I have spent all day for two days just trying to get together one P&L report for my accountant tomorrow...and I am only half way through reconciling my imported bank statements and haven't begun my Square reports.

HOW DOES ANYONE DO THIS? I feel like most of my home business life has been an agonizing experience trying to do what SHOULD be simple bookkeeping. I don't have a complex business model here, and I don't make bazillions of dollars that needs to be tracked across investment accounts or something. I just comes in goes out there. When you see *GROSS SALES BLARGSNAP* please change it to *Lovely Client Name* and put in "The Thing I Do For That Client*. And then give me a report of that to hand to my accountant once a year.

Tracking our games, Tracking our shames

by Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Thanks to Andria Wood's post on Facebook about buying ALL THE THINGS, I mused today about how we track our game collection. I wonder: do other gamers track their Wall of Shame, and if so, how?

A night at Cafe Mox where me and
mah gurlz met a sweet Swede. Memories!
I use the BGG interface to track plays, purchases, wishlists, etc. (when do we get the whole website updated??! PLEASE OH PLEASE BE SOON!!) Whenever we play games, I take a few photos of every game, including the final game state. This way if I don't get to updating my BGG in a timely fashion, I can go to my handy-dandy Google Photos and be reminded what we played, with who, when, and who won. I then select a few representative photos to move over to our "Gaming" shared folder where my husband and I both contribute pictures we've taken of gaming sessions to share with each other. It's a fun album to scroll through as a walk down gaming memory lane!

In addition to this, I also keep a Google doc, updated monthly with new acquisitions, Kickstarters (including KS page links and estimated delivery by month/year), and the ongoing Wall of Shame--that is, games you own but have not yet played; which in our definition includes games we have played elsewhere and subsequently purchased, but have not yet played our own copy.

Thanks to Andria's post, I was reminded I needed to be a March update to our games list. We were already developing a healthy 2017 Wall of Shame thanks to the holidays and hubby's birthday being around the turn of the year. But also thanks to flash sales, discounts, a local FLGS closing out merch, Kickstarters arriving, and ECCC, some more recently. To be precise, 16 new games in the last month alone. *cringe* Worse yet (better yet??!), there would be more, but 6 Kickstarters are running behind schedule. And also? 20+ KS due in 2017 so far.

*facepalm* Can I get an Amen?

Unexpected Events - The Tale of Tom

by Saturday, March 04, 2017
Lovely day at ComicCon, and then ended strange and sad. We came home via Uber, and there was a black car parked in the street, still running with lights on, in front of our neighbors across the street. We assumed it was another Uber picking up or dropping someone off, so we thought nothing of it.

About 15 minutes later I notice it's still there, still lights on. Strange, but..they aren't breaking any laws so *shrug*. An hour later it is still there when my neighbor gets home--dogs barking, go to look, car is there and neighbor is kinda looking at it strangely, but the windows are dark, so you can't tell if anyone is in it. I ask Chris to go out and get the license number in case it is an abandoned car. We can call the police and inquire.

He grabs a flashlight and asks me to go out with him, with the phone handy in case it is something dangerous and I need to call 911. We walked over there and he shines the light in the window...and there caught in the light is an old man mouthing frantically at us "Help me!". I run over and open the door, and he can barely speak. I lean in and put my ear close to his mouth and he hoarsely whispers "Call the police." Chris calls 911 and I squat down by him and lean in to hear him better. He is weak and barely moving. His hands are clenched on his thighs and he doesn't think he can move. "I can't do anything," he kept saying. I put my arm around him and told him we won't leave him and we are calling for medical help.

Chris talks to dispatch while I get him talking. Asked his name, where he lives, how old he is, how he got out here this time of night alone. He starts to perk up a little and speak more coherently and strongly as we talk. He tells me his name is Tom Healy, he is 85, lives on the other side of 99 and up a few blocks. He tried to call for medical help earlier and realized all he could say was "Hello" and couldn't get help. So he got in the car to drive himself to the hospital. He got lost and realized he couldn't move well any more so parked the car and had been sitting there OVER AN HOUR while we neighbors came and went, thinking the car was just an Uber or something, waiting for someone to come help him.

I told him I wouldn't leave his side until help came. We chatted about being native Seattlites (rare!), if anyone was looking for him (family lives near by), and about his sweet vintage music CD collection in the door. He reminds me so much of Chris' late grandfather, who passed away around this age, and I feel heartbroken that he has been out here alone and scared so long. A fire truck comes down the street, cordons off the road, I tell him I will stay nearby, and Chris and I move out of the way but within his sight line so he can see we are still there. They do all the usual tests and whatnot and call for an ambulance. It takes longer than I expect, but they come lights a'blarin, which brings our neighbor to the window, so I walk over to explain what went on. He feels as terrible as we do for not walking over to investigate more closely.

Before they loaded him up, I asked if I could talk to him. I tell him it was nice meeting him, but I wish it had been better circumstances. "Me too!" he said with a little chuckle. I tell him to get better. He says, "I don't know that I will. I don't think they can do anything for me." I poked him in the arm playfully and say, "Don't be an Eeyore, now. You concentrate on getting better, okay?" He nods and thanks me for helping him. I want to hug him so bad it hurts.

We saw him off in the ambulance, shook hands and thanks all the firemen (and firewoman!), and gave all our vital details to both the firemen and the EMT's. We offered to let them park his car in our driveway, and they gave us his cell number to call him tomorrow to arrange him or his family getting his car back when they can. ComicCon plans may be changed tomorrow accordingly.

I have been on the verge of tears feeling like a horrible human being--a true city-dweller who is too afraid to approach a car (a late model black Mercedes with tinted windows, fairly) for fear of getting hurt. All the while, he was begging for someone to find him and help him, scared and alone. I'm just glad Chris agreed to go out and had the forethought to bring a flashlight, or who knows how long that poor, sweet man would have been out there in the cold. I am also on the verge of tears feeling blessed that we WERE there and able to help him in time to get medical care.

I feel shaken. Tired. Sad. It reminds me of how I felt when we were first on that car accident scene around this time last year. I still think of Betsey often and wonder how she is doing. And I believe I will continue to think of Tom and hope he is safe, comfortable, and loved to the end of his days.

"Chicksplaining" Women and Board Games

by Thursday, February 23, 2017
Did you know Monopoly was originally invented by a woman?
Ah the fun of being a woman in the board game world!

Often there are discussions opened which explore the experiences of women in the world of gaming. I see these across the spectrum--in video games, console games, and board games--and there is always this impressive push back from a certain segment of men. I don't know why it is such a hard concept to grasp: that women are as varied as men and that your limited experience with women and gaming isn't representative of a whole. But also, there is a social construct around gaming in our world that has been developed over generations, and conversations like these are a way to call the status quo into question, and hopefully steer this ship on a different course. This should be welcome to anyone who truly believes gaming is for everyone and gaming spaces should offer equal opportunity. And yet I see men talking out of both sides of their mouths constantly. The old "You say women like all games, but in my gaming group, only a few show up and they only like lighter games. So that proves women don't like gaming that much, and they only like simple games." trope.

I dove into one discussion recently, and decided I would share my thoughts. This was in a thread started, innocently enough, by a father who had blogged about his daughter being an avid gamer. He speaks of how important it is that she be welcome in gaming, and how she and girls like her are changing the landscape. You can read his blog here. To catch up on the discussion I was participating in, here is a different man among the participants in the discussion:

"...Here's an idea- start a meetup group, with a focus on games that women might like. One of the more successful ones in my area blended a women's get -together with a board game meetup group. Some nights I go there, and the women outnumber the men. They are playing TtR, Roll for It, Splendor and Rack-O. I know that unless some of the guys show up, that lighter more social-oriented games will be on the agenda. I am OK with that. In fact, last Monday they had five playing TtR and I was late, so I coached the 3 new players (all senior women). I enjoyed it, too, even though it was not ASL or Terraforming Mars.

That's what they play when I get there. I have another mixed group that plays heavier stuff, but the Women's open Meetup plays lighter games. Please chicksplain what led you to believe I was talking about all women."

A little "chicksplaining" for ya' (not a thing, by the way, just like reverse racism isn't a thing):

I mean come on, now...
Here's the funny thing about stereotypes and social constructs: they tend to create a feedback loop. Girls are told all their lives "this kind of toy/game is your kind of toy/game", then some women grow up believing they would only be good at a certain kind of games. Meanwhile, little boys grow up with these same kinds of narratives, believing the spaces they occupy with "boys' toys and games" are their sole domain. They curate this space with that in mind. When women grow up with this consistent narrative, they subconsciously gravitate toward what they were taught and modeled; and in turn they then become the example that other people point to and say, "See?! Women only like those kinds of games. " Meanwhile, men continue cultivate their male-dominated spaces, content their point is proven and their assumptions are safe, and so the wheel turns.

What is great about the world we live in today is we are many of us, men and women alike, pushing back against those stereotypes and rewriting the script that little girls and boys will hear. Right now we have a culture around gaming which doesn't fully understand women in it because it hasn't considered women part of it much in the past. Don't forget we have generations of men and women--alive and well today--raised in a culture where women were breeders in the kitchen, and "game night" was a beer and poker game where women were invited only to refill the pretzel bowls. For decades (centuries?) men built gaming spaces that are expected to be just for them because that was the accepted stereotype, and now that women are entering them, there is some push-back. Whenever I go to PAX and I get treated like the wife/girlfriend who tagged along instead of the actual person who bought the tickets and dragged her SO along, I am reminded. When at ComicCon they hand him schwag left and right and I have to stand there staring for a minute with my hand out to make sure I get some for myself. Hell, this whole discussion, every time it comes up, amply demonstrates the misconceptions about women in gaming which we are fed from the time we are young.

Kids learn young. The Glass Ceiling: The Game!
But listen to the women talking to you now, right here, with their lived experiences. We are telling you that what used to be true is NOT always true any more. So when you use your language to describe what you are experiencing, consider the importance of couching it with "in my limited experience..." or "the people I game with tend to...". Most importantly, remember you are seeing a tiny sliver of the gaming world, and in that world there will be many who grew up with the old script and don't have a new script. When we ask our fellow gamers to try and make a gaming environment more inclusive, we aren't asking you to make it "easier" or to bring children's party games to the table to placate us. We're asking you to take a look at the new script--that women gamers are as diverse as men gamers and we want you to treat us with fairness and respect--and help us in handing that script out to other women who haven't gotten the memo yet.

How can you do this? When you see newcomers to a gaming group, what do you do? If you see a guy walk in, do you stare him down? Do you automatically assume they wouldn't be interested in the game you're playing, hand him Connect Four and sit him down next to another new guy and tell them to have at it? Because if you don't do that with men, don't do it with women! Invite them over, ask them if they have played a certain game before, and offer to teach them if they haven't. If they demure thinking it's too complicated or heavy or intimidating in any way, (and it sounds like in your sliver of the world, many will--remember that pesky *old* script?), respond with encouragement. "Nah, give it a try! You might love this. I've been playing this game for years and my favorite thing about it is..."

I appreciate that not all games are for all people. I am not a huge 4X fan so don't seek them out, but if I walked into a game shop and someone offered to teach me, I happen to LOVE learning new game mechanics and--should the invitation be in good faith--I would enthusiastically say yes. According to you, if I walked in you'd hand me Roll For It and send me to the ladies table without much consideration. That is the change in the script we are asking of you and men like you--don't assume. Give opportunities. Be welcoming. ACTUALLY WELCOMING. For heaven's sake, I don't know why that is such a hard thing to ask of other humans, yet it seems the uphill battle in the gaming world.

Some further reading:

Playing Safe: Making Women Feel Welcome


On this blog I share my personal posts about cooking and knitting, travel and other musings; while I will blog about dance-specific topics over on the Deep Roots Dance blog:

I hope you will enjoy both my sites. Thanks for visiting!
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