Monday, December 31, 2012

My New Year's Resolution: More No's Faster

My father-in-law, Randy Boyer, is a successful computer software salesman. He has an expression: More no's faster. Meaning, the more times he hears no, the closer he is to a yes. What this really highlights is an unwillingness to give up no matter how many times he's rejected.

In my professional life, the person who personifies this attitude the most is my literary agent, Barney Karpfinger. He never gave up! In November 2010, we had a slew of meetings with publishers for Dancers Among Us (which at the time was set exclusively in Manhattan). The result was always the same- they loved the photos but didn't think a book would sell.

"A dance photography book set in New York City? They'll never buy it in Kansas."

As the no's were pouring in, Barney was upbeat and reassuring. "My most successful books were always the hardest to sell. Don't worry, we will find a home for this book."

After all the publishers passed, most agents would have moved on. Instead, Barney asked me to meet him at the High Line in Chelsea on a winter afternoon. The High Line is a park built on an old elevated subway line, so it is high above the streets of Manhattan and nestled in between apartment complexes.

The Highline. Photo on Instagram- @jordanmatter

"These buildings are privately owned," he told me. "Let's approach all of the owners and convince them to hang huge Dancers Among Us banners on their facades. We need to do something to create a buzz, and an art installation adjacent to one of the world's most popular parks will generate media interest. Then we can approach the publishers again."

Rather than backing down and accepting the popular opinion, Barney was ready to go the distance. He was not going to accept no for an answer.

A month later, the amazing Workman Publishing unexpectedly called us in for a meeting. Barney's positivity had an impact on me. As Workman expressed similar concerns about the New York setting, I decided I had heard enough no's for one book-

"Actually, I'm planning to shoot Dancers Among Us all around the country this summer," I lied. I didn't mention that those plans were about five seconds old; I just couldn't hear another no.

Workman was interested in this concept, and I started booking airplane tickets. The rest, as they say, is history. Dancers Among Us has been on the New York Times bestseller list for the past six weeks, and was chosen by Oprah Magazine, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble as one of the best books of 2012. It has sold out in bookstores across the country, and has already been reprinted twice. 

When Barney finds himself reassuring future clients who are tired of hearing no, he now has one more book to use as an example. And when I'm doubtful about the prospects of any future projects, I will remember his tenacity and keep moving forward, looking for more no's faster.

Barney with my son, Hudson, on Thanksgiving Day 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Life Is Like a Ski Lesson"- an Unseen Chapter From Dancers Among Us

Today is Hudson's seventh birthday.

One of the most amazing things about parenthood is the self-reflection that comes from watching a child's journey. In Dancers Among Us, many chapters in the book are introduced by essays exploring the ways in which my children inspire me to see the joy in everyday life.

One chapter, titled "Being," was cut from the book. I would like to share part of the (unedited) essay I wrote for that chapter, because it highlights one of countless moments of illumination inspired by my children over the past seven years.

Hudson before his first ski lesson

Life is like a ski lesson

This thought came to me as I watched Hudson snowplow down his first hill.

At first, we have the confidence of innocence; everyone else seems to be doing it easily, so how hard can it be? Then we feel the slippery ground under our feet and life is suddenly precarious. We start moving, but it’s scary and we want to stop; the mountain looks steep. We creep slowly forward, clinging on for safety. After a long struggle, we find our footing. We coast down the mountain with confidence; then we speed down with arrogance. We get over-confident and fall. The fear of another tumble is unsettling, so we slow down and move with renewed apprehension. If we’re lucky, eventually we find equilibrium.

I haven’t found my equilibrium.

I speed, I fall, and then I speed again. I try to slow down and find balance, but only briefly. I get restless and look for a steeper mountain. I have often benefited from this relentless sense of urgency, but I live in an almost constant state of preoccupation. Sometimes I envy people who resist the temptation to speed forward, and instead allow themselves to just “be.”

What does it mean, to “be?” Is it to be content? Present? Reflective? Serene? I recognize it when I see it, but I don’t know how to describe it. I see it in my children. A child’s innate self-acceptance is enviable. I have been a father for over six years, and my children have always been unflinchingly genuine. I keep changing into different clothes during the party, trying to find what fits best. Hudson and Salish stay in the same outfit.

The dancers on the following pages have found the clothes that fit the best. They show me a place I know exists, but I have yet to find the key that opens the door. 

Dancer Among Us Nolan McGahan of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in Aspen, CO

Happy Birthday, my beautiful boy. Thank you for the inspiration. I love you.

Hudson last night

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

These Dancers Are FU@#ING Crazy

Here's one of my very favorite Dancers Among Us photos, taken last week for a prime time segment to air on RTL German TV, the largest network in Germany:

(Click on image to see full size)

Those who have seen this shot all seem to have the same question: "WTF? How the hell did they do that?"

My answer: "I don't know, and I was there. But I do know this much- it was one of the most difficult shots I've ever taken."

These guys- Ryan Breslin, Julian DeGuzman, David Guzman, Jacob Guzman, and Evan Kasprzak- are performing right now in an undisclosed Broadway mega production (I'm sworn to silence, but it rhymes with Twosies). They're young, fit and totally nuts- perfect. They would lie on the ground, clutching their money. On the count of three, they would push up, extend into position, and then land hard on the concrete (without letting go of the money).

And they did this fifty-four times!

Why so many? Because I wouldn't stop until they cried, "Uncle". And dancers don't cry, "Uncle". So we were at an impasse.

As I will show you now, there were many roadblocks. "All we need is one," I kept saying. Followed immediately by, "So let's do it a few more times." It seemed like EVERY TIME something went wrong- cars, busses and people in the background were a big issue. However, getting all five dancers to hit their position (arms and legs extended)  at the same moment without blocking each other was the biggest challenge.

Take a look:

I'm exhausted just looking at those shots, and there were forty more! 

Besides the difficulties above, keeping 5th Avenue clear while they jumped was no picnic, and there were plenty of distractions behind me as well:

Plus the Juicy Couture guard kept telling us to stop blocking the doorway, and I really had to pee. 

Eventually they cried, "Uncle". And with good reason- they're hands were like sides of beef at a butcher shop.

We got our shot, RTL got some amazing footage, and I finally had my pee. A perfect day!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Barnes & Noble, I Cannot Stop Giving You Praise!

When things couldn't seemingly get any better, Barnes & Noble has done it again! I received this in my inbox today sharing "The Best Books of 2012 - Last-Minute Gifts Edition" and I was thrilled to see Dancers Among Us highlighted under "Quirky, Different, and Beautiful Books". Barnes & Noble has been an integral part in exposing Dancers Among Us to new eyes and has drawn in thousands of new fans to my work and book. I am incredibly grateful for their continued promotion.

Dancers Among Us in eblast

Monday, December 17, 2012

Amazon Selects Dancers Among Us From Millions of Books

Dancers Among Us was published eight weeks ago, and it has been flying off the shelves ever since! It has spent seven weeks on the New York Times and Indie best seller lists, and has been selected for numerous "Best Books of 2012" honors (including Oprah Magazine and Barnes & Noble). It landed on ABC World News, The Today Show, The Insider, Huffington Post, NPR Morning Edition, Daily Mail UK, and was #1 on Reddit. Two reprints have been ordered in the past month.

Dancers Among Us has become a greater sensation than I could have ever imagined, and yet there was still one HUGE surprise waiting for me before the new year-

On Amazon's home page, Dancers Among Us is sandwiched between two NY Times #1 best selling literary giants- Steven Colbert and Rick Riordan- to represent all of the editor's picks for last minute gift books.

Let me put this in perspective. Amazon selected these three books from all the titles released in 2012. According to Bowker, there would be, conservatively, 10,000,000 ISBN numbers issued in 2012. TEN MILLION BOOKS! I don't even know how to get my mind around that number, but I do know one thing for certain-

Colbert should invite me and Riordan on his show for a glass of champagne.

Thank you Amazon. I'm jumping for joy, and I'm not the only one.

Dancer Among Us Gwynedd Vetter-Drusch last week in New York City

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Dancers Among Us Honor From Barnes & Noble

Capping an incredible seven weeks that has included five weeks on the New York Times and Indie best seller lists, Dancers Among Us has been named one of the "Best Books of 2012" by industry gold standard bearer Barnes & Noble. Click here to check out the list, with Dancers Among Us under "Quirky, Beautiful, Different":

To Barnes & Noble- To thank you properly I'd like to offer the images and stories from two previous blog posts about photographing Dancers Among Us in your stores. Permission to take these shots was not granted ahead of time, but I always believe it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. Can I assume selection to your prestigious list means you forgive me?

"Crashing Barnes & Noble"

"Dancers Among Us Gets a Second Chance With an Alvin Ailey Star"

And just look at my son...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Have a Huge MAN CRUSH on tWitch, but Allison Holker Got Him First

I arrived at the location early. Dance lifestyle channel DS2DIO and a full production crew would be there shortly, documenting my Dancers Among Us process with megastar couple and So You Think You Can Dance alum tWitch and Allison Holker. DS2DIO had arranged everything- bringing me to Los Angeles, selecting the dancers and choosing the locations. It promised to be an amazing day, except for one little thing…

This was the first location-

Soon everyone would be gathered, waiting for me to make magic. Allison and tWitch would expect a photograph befitting their talents and accomplishments. DS2DIO would be looking for some great footage. Yet I saw nothing of interest at this staircase. I didn’t know the area well enough to suggest an alternative; it had to be here.

As time dwindled and their arrival was imminent, I did what I always do when in a photo crisis- I looked to the light.

 Perhaps this had potential. I zoomed in closer and liked what I saw.

If I had seen these beautiful flowers ahead of time, I would have asked Allison to wear something that complimented the color. Then, as often happens, serendipity took over- she arrived wearing a perfectly matching skirt!

I fell for them immediately. They are a HOT couple, and I developed an immediate man crush on tWitch. Within five minutes I had his shirt off. All I could see when I looked at them was sexy, sexy, sexy. I knew the shot had to ooze sensuality. They were game for anything, and we started trying poses.

I was set on the dip, but after hundreds of shots Allison suggested something more intimate.

I’m so glad she did. An adjustment to her leg position and the image was complete. Fifty minutes and 583 photographs later, we got our shot!

We still had a little time, and I wasn’t in any hurry to let them go. I suggested we try a more guerrilla approach. When in doubt, head to the local coffee shop.

With just a few minutes remaining, I sprawled out in the middle of a busy intersection and took full advantage of tWitch’s amazing leaping ability.

After just two hours of shooting, I had three great shots! On Monday you can watch the film on DS2DIO’s YouTube channel. I’m looking forward to seeing it myself- Allison and tWitch were born to be in the movies.