If it’s one thing we are all realizing now, more than ever, is just how much we are all inter-related and inter-woven with one another. No one person can be successful without a team of people around you to make that happen. As a teacher, this concept can be very difficult to impart to students wanting to become professionals. The same can be said of professionals wanting to move ahead in a company. Simply put, the very thing that can make you a great dancer can often be the very thing that can keep you from becoming a great dancer. The connections we build with one another are fundamental to our success.
In the ballet world, we are taught from a young age to pay attention to our bodies. This concept is vital to the betterment of our technique. Often, it can take years to develop the connection and understanding of our inner selves. Every day we go in to a studio and work on a lengthy list of things necessary to be a good dancer. We are told… feel your turnout come from the top of your legs. Feel the back of your legs working…feel your gluts engage. We are reminded to FEEL…feel the floor, feel your back elongate. The list goes on and on and on.
The problem with this is that it becomes such a personal and selfish kind of work. We must ignore all around us to become truly engaged in our work. We have to “tune out” what others are doing in order for us to pay attention to our own bodies and become our best. It becomes a catch 22…”you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t” (pardon the French).
We begin dance classes because we love dancing. We’ve heard the saying…be free…dance as if no one’s watching. Well, that’s all great but if you want to dance professionally, you cannot be free. In order to be a good ballet dancer, you must understand the complexities of ballet. I have said it many times…”stay within the confines of proper ballet”. That’s tricky to achieve, as we often judge ourselves by how it feels rather than how it looks. Again, because we are taught from a young age to feel, we then get caught up with that very thing. A great ballet dancer is one that can stay within the confines of true proper ballet while making it appear as though she/he is dancing freely.
This is why it is so difficult to explain. The word “confines” means that you must adhere to the rules and restrictions of good and correct ballet technique. This cannot be achieved without becoming completely and acutely aware with every inch of your body, to be certain that every body part is in the right/appropriate position at all times.
This “self awareness” work can come at a great cost. We become inward and selfish in our quest to be our best selves and becoming a great dancer. We forget how significant, valuable, and vital others’ work is to our very success.
When you are taking class every day, are you listening to music or are you just hearing the tempo? Are you feeling the space around you or the space within you? What does your energy say to the world, or are you so caught up in your technique that you are emanating negative or inward verve?
Dancing is an expression of music through movement. In order to express the music, you must listen to every nuance of it. The music determines the quality, meaning the musician determines the very essence of your movement. The choreography determines the action. Hopefully the choreographer is in tune with the music and has a collaboration of senses that can unify the two, utilizing the dancer as the means to the cause and effect.
What about the costumes? Is the design beautiful? Is it practical? You can have a beautiful costume, have a beautiful look, but how does it fit? Can you breathe? Can you have full range of motion? Does that matter to your success?
Here’s the thing…everybody has an equal and important duty to the product on stage. We forget as we forge on, sweating, enduring pain mentally and physically, how or what others’ roles influences and weighs on our success. And here’s the other thing, when you do become really great at what you do, you finally are feeling the results of years worth of insanely deep physical and mental work. The cause and effect of that is that many inadvertently become arrogant in their sense of accomplishments. And we forget the significance and worth of others’ roles around us.
Many of us overlook the audiences’ intentions and their many different/personal reasons for attending a performance. Blind individuals attend performances, not just to listen to the music, but to feel the energy, pulse and vibrations of the show; they can’t see your technique, they can only feel you. Find a good balance between your technique and your connection to the audience, not just your dancing. Fill the space around you, not just in you.
It is easy to detect nervousness on stage. And it is easy to detect arrogance. We must work every day to see others’ value and appreciate what they bring to the table. We must live with humility and gratitude. My students used to ask me what they should do when they are bowing to the audience? I’ve always said you must bow with appreciation to everyone around you. Thank the audience for taking the time out to see you. Thank them for spending hard earned money to attend a performance rather than a sporting event. Thank the musicians for playing inspiring music. Thank the choreographer for the beautiful sequence of movement. Thank the architect for the amazing space for your art. Thank the costume designer, and your teacher, your coach, your director for giving you the opportunity to show your art and be paid for it. The list goes on and on and on. Most importantly, thank yourself for your honest work, but always remaining mindful that you are only one part of the bigger picture.