HotHouse Intensive: Meeting Myself

Temple University Musical Theater BFA student José Raúl Mangual took part in a HotHouse Intensive this winter. He documented the experience through daily reflections and photos that will be shared as blog posts as we prepare for the Summer Intensive.

HotHouse Intensive Day 5 (3/6/18)


Today’s corporal sequence felt like a (welcome) scale model of a “real”-world battle: a constant, inner battle between corporal and mental/goal-oriented desire.

Our breaths as an ensemble seem to strive to follow a consistent tempo regardless of the nature of the movement being executed. In a pedestrian scenario, some movements warrant quicker breath than others post-execution: generally, a person would agree that squatting until your butt touches the floor exerts more energy than moving your head 90° to the right. After the more exhausting segments in the sequence, of which I consistently have three, I find my breath to be shallower and faster than the tempo of the collective ensemble.

Today, I found myself enforcing Justin’s teaching that we must surrender to the ensemble in those moments…for all of a few breaths. I know how to alleviate the shallow breaths as they come: we make sure our eyes stay open in soft focus, we insist upon the collective tempo, inhale and exhale from the triangle, project our breath to the rest of the ensemble, collect energy from the earth, and more; but it seems my twenty years’ muscle memory prevents my brain from taking over my body and allowing the changes to come through.

(José Raúl Mangual)

I did implement the tactics to remain with the ensemble, and they did seem to be successful! Still, the unfamiliarity felt scary enough to somehow make quitting more attractive. In a way, it felt like one of those all-too-familiar moments of panic where the comfortable, familiar option is chosen over the foreign but measured one. The quote, “If you’re afraid to dive, then dive afraid.” (-Lisa Nichols) comes to mind.

In retrospect, I believe this is the “meeting oneself” which has previously been discussed by Justin. I am stunned by what I perceive as its parallel nature to what I do when I “meet myself” in my day-to-day life! In both instances, I know the result I wish to change; I know what it can do for me: the value of the desired result, and I know the nominal (titular) steps I need to take. However, when it comes down to total implementation, I consistently fall short: I have been engaged in an inner battle with my relationship to food. Some, myself included, would categorize my behaviors as symptomatic of dysmorphic or eating disorders, though I have never received an official diagnosis. I have wanted to make “the change” for over a year and a half, as my fight to repair my relationship to food has consumed much of my attention and energy

I know the steps I need (want) to take, the changes I want to make, to fluctuating levels of specificity:

  • Cut the junk food
  • Eat more greens
  • Exercise often (dance, run, gym)

And yet, when I’m at the fork in the road, I consistently choose the path I know to be dark and winding.

Today’s moments of shallow breath leave me with odd hope. If I have an improved understanding of the components of a “failure,” I theorize “success” is that much easier to bring about. I intend to use this theory in my daily battle with this vice and other vices which have lain dormant but quiet bubbling.

(José Raúl Mangual)

I had a similar experience in a ballet class last school year. When balancing at the barre, I would take so long finnicking with the minute placement of my foot, the activation of my muscles but the relaxation in my bones, and my center of gravity, and the ease of my fingers and the wing of my foot and the turnout in both legs and more, that I would not permit myself to take my hand off the barre and simply work on balancing when the time came. Once class, my ballet professor pointed this out to me. At risk of seeming hyperbolic, I say I heard truth twofold in her note.

I realized my muscular inefficiency was being practiced in my life, in my decision-making. In general, my attention had become hyperfixative on minutia, little imperfections I rightfully wanted to fix but capitalized to the point of their eclipsing the simultaneous truth that I was not at all far from the goals they were blocking.

At that time, I wanted to clean my room. My clothes were scattered throughout the room. I had books, papers, and writing utensils in places I’d never settled to read, write, or draw. When I would muster the energy to commit to cleaning my room, I would find thirty minutes had passed with me still organizing the same top surface of my dresser drawers I began those thirty minutes focusing on, unable to graduate to the next section of my room until everything reflected the ideal configuration in my mind’s eye. Yet, in the grand scheme of my room, the mess was comprised of no more than some clothing, books, papers, and writing utensils.

Read the first HotHouse Intensive blog

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