All, Art, Tales from the Tutu Side

Moments of Wonder

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Edgar Degas’ Dance Class, Bing Images

 

 

Ballet is a teacher, a teacher of life lessons as well as of quirks unique to the art itself.  Returning to dancing full-time after a college hiatus has reminded me of many of these lessons, both sweet and sour.  For example, I had blissfully forgotten just how gosh darn sore one’s toes become and how much one’s feet can ache after being crammed in pointe shoes for hours on a daily basis.  The flip side of that, however, is the liberating feeling of removing said shoes and being able to spread one’s toes wide apart again.  In ballet, the old saying, “beauty is pain” can very often be all too true.

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Pointe shoes!

Furthermore, training and performing in any dance form and especially in ballet, at least at a school or company worth its salt, teaches a person to push himself/herself.  To perform and even to take class every day, one must have a solid work ethic and a whole lot of discipline.  Moreover, one must allow oneself to be vulnerable for one is continually being compelled to move out of his or her comfort zone, through self-motivation, teacher-prodding, and new and challenging choreography.  Trying and failing and trying and succeeding are part and parcel of the life of a dancer be he/she student or professional.  Practice that pirouette again.  Hold that balance a bit longer.  One more time.  A little more effort.  And most importantly, don’t forget to put heart and soul into the movements as well.  No automaton dancers.  One’s passion for ballet is what one can draw upon to inform the artistry and grace that gives life to the technique.

Despite the mechanics, the technique, and the arduous work that I know goes into ballet, sometimes it still seems like magic to me.  When I watch someone execute a step flawlessly or when the movements feel natural and good in my body or when I see the amazing feats of grace and coordination in balletic partner dancing, I find myself thinking of the tremendous gift that is dance and ballet and of the goodness of life.  I experience a moment of wonder.

Some of these moments have recently come during rehearsals of “The Nutcracker.”  This time-honored ballet favorite is familiar even to those who are not ardent followers of the dance world.  Many professional companies perform dozens of shows of “The Nutcracker” each year during the Christmas season.  Between rehearsals and performances, Nutcracker can easily consume a dancer’s life for three to four months.  Dancers sometimes joke about being sick of hearing the music over and over.

However, I never get sick of it.  Though the choreography of “The Nutcracker” differs company to company, Tchaikovsky’s incomparable music is the one exquisite and steadfast component to any production.  Perhaps because it has been a long time since I have danced in “The Nutcracker,” I have a re-awakened and heightened appreciation for its beauty.  Regardless, while listening to this grand score, I have found myself with goose bumps and not being able to suppress smiles.

One day as I was dancing to “Waltz of the Flowers,” I found myself almost becoming emotional while I was moving across the studio.  My stamina and breath were flagging toward the end of the nearly 7-minute piece, but the music was swelling and building, and in that moment, I realized that I had to allow the music to carry me through to the end.  The music and the realization that to little children in the audience, I really will be an enchanted flower dancing across the stage.  I am a character in a fairy tale.  And to me, that is pretty cool.  Again, a moment of wonder, of magic, and of appreciation for the gift of imagination.

The famous ballet choreographer George Balanchine said, “See the music, hear the dance.” This quote captures in a nutshell the relationship between dance and music, namely, an intimate one that enhances both sides.  I believe a prime example of this quotation is in “The Nutcracker.” The music is so rich and diverse as is the dancing, which includes several smaller dances or variations that reflect different nationalities. The music seems to be telling the story. There is the spiciness of Spanish, the sophistication and sensuality of Arabian, the breathless exuberance and strength of Russian, the excitement of the snow scene, the joy of the waltz of the flowers, and the majesty and romance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier’s grand pas de deux, among all the other colorful, beautiful parts.  Throw in costumes and a set and the end result is truly awe-inspiring. (To learn more about a grand pas de deux, please see my previous post, Lessons in Love & Chivalry from the World of Ballet.)

These little moments of wonder are inestimably valuable, especially in our day and age.

Amidst the hustle-and-bustle of our daily lives, the concerns we may have about national and international events, and the modern technology that allows us to have a geyser of information and facts at our beck and call, it is rejuvenating and calming to allow ourselves to feel wonder and awe at the simple things in life and at the beauty of the world around us.  Remembering this can help us on those inevitable days when our occupation or our particular stage in life can be overwhelming or feel monotonous. I know I am trying to recognize more and more the little things in life and to thank God for them.

As a closing thought, if you have never listened to Tchaikovsky’s musical masterpiece of the Nutcracker or if you have never attended a live performance of “The Nutcracker,” do yourself a favor and remedy that situation.  It will be well worth your while.

You can watch an excerpt of “The Nutcracker,” filmed for television in 1977 and performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, two icons of the dance world, here.

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All, Culture/Life

Avoiding the Tyranny of Technology

It’s ubiquitous–ever encroaching into new aspects of our lives.  No, I’m not talking about politics and the presidential election.  I’m talking about technology, that blessing and scourge of modern society.  And yes, I realize the irony of using a computer and the internet to critique technology.  Clearly, I am not totally opposed to technology; one would be foolish not to recognize the benefits that it has brought to mankind.

However, so much of it nowadays truly seems to beg the question: “even though we can, should we?”  This question can refer to ethical dilemmas in medical technology or to the use of drones to deliver people’s packages.  Moreover, people’s lives seem to be increasingly revolving around screens–TV, phone, computer, iPad, etc., etc.  Obviously, many of these things are useful and one needs to make use of them, but it makes me sad when a back-to-school commercial has a mother talking about how her daughter spent the summer “binge-watching” TV or when a car commercial proudly displays kids being kept quiet by TV screens in the back of their parents’ seats.  Shoot, when I was a kid, we would read, play games, and sing to the radio or our cassette tapes and CDs on road trips.

Don’t get me wrong.  Everyone needs a good movie marathon now and again, and social media is a useful way to keep up-to-date with friends and family.  Nevertheless, I think if one stops for a moment and reflects, it becomes fairly clear that society is relying more and more on technology to think, communicate, entertain, and work for us and instead of us.

As technological “progress” appears to be interminable, we will have to make a concerted and purposeful effort to be in control of our use of technology and not let it control us.  Real reality, the people and places around us, will always be more interesting, challenging, lovable, and wonder-inspiring than virtual reality.

So while acknowledging technology’s place in our lives, here is a list of 11 activities that involve minimal or no technology.

1.) Write an old-fashioned snail mail letter to someone.   It’s more personal than an email or a text and you know that receiving something in the mail is always fun.  Plus, it gives a person a chance to work on his/her handwriting (another thing that has been lost thanks, in part, to technology).

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2.) Experiment in the kitchen.  Dig out an old family recipe or try a new recipe or come up with your own culinary concoction.  Try to avoid looking up directions online.

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3.)  Read–NOT on a kindle. Snuggle up under a blanket or lay outside in a hammock and get transported to another time and place.

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4.) Play a  game.  Cards and Monopoly didn’t stop being fun just because you’re not a child anymore.

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5.) Outdoor activities. Go for a nature walk; go for a bike ride; play sports with friends.  It’s good for the body and the spirit.

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6.) Explore your community. Visit a nearby museum or an historical landmark.  Go to an apple orchard or a farmers’ market.  It’s never a bad life decision to understand more fully the place you call home.

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7.) Take up a new hobby. Try your hand at gardening.  Learn a musical instrument.  Learn how to sew.  Make an attempt at painting or writing poetry.  In the words of C.S. Lewis:

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8.)  Support live local theater. Go watch a play or a ballet or see a touring Broadway musical and be reminded of the beauty of the performing arts.

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9.)  Listen to music.  Don’t just have it on in the background but really be still and listen, or put on music and have a spontaneous dance party with friends or by yourself. Attend a live concert and make memories with friends. (This does involve some use of technology, but the main point is that you are not staring at a screen).

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10.)  Truly be present to those around you. Converse with family and friends without obsessively checking your phone.  Or just simply be silent and enjoy each other’s company.

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11.) Pray – because the Good Lord would love to hear from you!!!

What are some of your favorite non-technological activities?

 

NOTE: pictures found through Bing Images.  They are either public domain or “free to share and use.”