Because of Dell’Arte I live my life well. Not to say that I’m rich or famous or successful by any conventional measure, but I am generally happy and healthy and enjoying the range of experiences that life has to offer. During my year at Dell’Arte, I learned a lot about performing, devising work, and styles of theatre. But more importantly, and perhaps more usefully, I learned how to take care of myself, body and mind. I learned how to communicate and collaborate with just about anyone. I learned the importance of being of service to a community.
Dell’Arte taught me so much about my body and my movement. I learned the basic necessities of regular exercise and feeding well, but also how to use my body most efficiently and usefully. I’m always looking for the causes of those little pains that can be corrected by a small adjustment in movement, or even just by paying attention. I still pull my navel in and think forward and up while letting my neck be free as I walk up a flight of stairs. Wednesday afternoons off for Life Repair was a saving grace of the year and I still make time for life repair days. I’m writing this on a life repair day. It absolutely saves my sanity.
I’ve taken the being of service idea quite literally by waiting tables. Honestly, I’m awesome at it. I was at Canter’s Deli in LA for four years, and now I’m coming up on four years at Veselka in NYC. These are generations-old, family-run places with regular customers who come in every day - sometimes two or three times a day - and we, the staff, know their names, what they eat, and how they like their coffee.
People often tell me how much it means to them that they ate at Veselka as a child and are now bringing their own children to continue the tradition. Because it is a relaxed atmosphere staffed with people who like each other, we’re free to be playful, which enriches everyone’s experience. My employers ensure that I make enough money in a week and support my involvements outside work by being wonderfully flexible with my schedule. We all take care of one another as much as possible. The restaurant as a whole is the community I serve.
I often think of taking an order as a collaboration between me and the customer with the goal of getting them exactly the meal they want. Every table is an exercise in presence and communication. Then there’s the timing and coordination it takes to get all the pieces out to the table. At Canter’s, it was constant choreography, because food came from four different places and often had to go from one to another before it was ready for the table. At Veselka, it’s a matter of maneuvering within a small space packed with a lot of people. This is all an opportunity to think about my movement. I have to be fast, efficient, and well-balanced while maintaining a pleasant demeanor, not always an easy feat while carrying three large bowls of borscht.
In the early weeks of Dell’Arte, we had those classes in which we walked and walked around the room and had to stop, change direction, and/or jump at the clap of Ronlin’s hands. This ability to move in any direction at any time, while keeping awareness of the room to avoid collision, is invaluable in both waiting tables and walking the streets of New York City.
In the ten years since I graduated Dell’Arte, I’ve had a variety of performing experiences. Some were fantastic; some were lousy. Some were scripted, some devised. Some ensemble, some solo. On stage, on camera, voice-over, and once I danced in the NYC Halloween Parade. I’ve paid my bills with money from performing a few times, but I’ve never gotten the hang of performing as a fulltime job. Recently I’ve found my love of being onstage dwindling. When I watch shows now, I just experience the enjoyment of the performance, without that nagging envy of the people onstage that was always present for as long as I can remember. I’ve realized that I love being in class more than I love pursuing a career. I love the practice and the journey more than any possible destination.
Because of all this realizing, I am not currently performing. I just finished getting certified as a yoga teacher, because what better way is there to be in class, barefoot, in comfy clothes all the time? It was a ten-week program with classes only three days a week, while we lived our regular lives the other four. Classmates keep saying what a transformative experience it was and how it was the most amazing and challenging thing they’ve ever done. I liked it a lot and found it very interesting. Hopefully it will lead to a new path in my life, in which I can use all the skills I’ve gathered to help people in their yoga practices and their lives. But I know that nothing can or will ever compare with the year I spent at Dell’Arte. It was the most challenging, the most rewarding, the most significant experience of my adult life and I carry it with me all day, every day, in everything that I do.
Adina Valerio lives in Brooklyn and teaches with Yoga to the People at St Mark's, 38th St, and Brooklyn locations. Connect on Facebook and or Instagram.