All, Art, Culture/Life, Faith, Tales from the Tutu Side

The Gift of Dance

In the words of Porky Pig, “That’s all, folks!”

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The final curtain has fallen on the 2016-2017 ballet season in my neck of the woods. As I think back over the past months, one of the outstanding take-aways for me is gratitude for the opportunity that ballet affords me to encounter other people and, hopefully, to have a positive impact on them.  This interaction happens primarily through the performances themselves.

After one show, an audience member told one of the company’s directors that watching one of the pieces was the first time she had felt joy in two weeks!  What a blessing that we as dancers and artists have a platform to uplift others!

In addition to regular ticketed shows, I’ve also had the chance to dance in numerous outreach performances at elementary schools and at senior living communities/assisted living facilities.

Let me tell you that these are special audiences, and they make these performances some of the most meaningful.

I could write a whole separate blog post about the exuberance, hilarity, and joy of the shows for kids.  They really do say the darndest things!

But dancing for the elderly has been truly moving.  Their faces brighten when we simply walk into the room.

Occasionally, we have been able to chat with the residents of the assisted livings and retirement communities after we’ve performed.  Invariably, we receive nothing but love and encouragement from these lovely souls.  In return, we are able to listen to their stories, such as tales of their own involvement with dance, or we simply offer a friendly smile and a warm hand-shake.

It is such a humbling and beautiful experience to be able to put dance at the service of others in this way.  Like other careers, the dance world can sometimes lead a person to be self-absorbed and to focus on self-aggrandizement in a demanding and competitive environment.  These outreach shows can be a good check on that attitude and a reminder that dance, like all talents, is meant to be shared and to benefit others.

Often in these facilities, we are dancing on carpet or on parquet or a combination of the two.  Sometimes we have to dodge low-hanging chandeliers (a particularly humorous situation for an above-average-height dancer like me).  In any case, definitely not ideal surfaces or conditions for a performance.

But that is not the point.

Of course, from a business angle, we are there to promote our company and our upcoming shows.  However, from a human and personal angle, I’ve come to realize that the purpose of these shows is not flawless technique or mistake-free dances. Naturally, I want to do my best, but the reason for these shows, especially the ones at retirement homes, is to uplift hearts and to spread joy.

Particularly in some of the facilities caring for lower-income senior citizens, our dancing, and simply our presence, is needed and appreciated.  One of the most memorable shows for me was at an organization that cares for children, elderly as well as mentally-challenged adults.  Some of the audience actually had tears in their eyes while we danced.

Even in places where the residents are more well-off financially and physically, our shows can be a morale boost.  One woman, whose granddaughter happens to be a professional dancer, explained to us that she had decided to wear a skirt that evening because she “was going to the ballet.”  She also repeatedly said that she was tired of “only looking at old people!”  Clearly, she was excited to see some youthful faces!

These authentic interactions, whether while dancing or in post-performance conversations, are an affirmation of the dignity of every person.  They are an opportunity for us as dancers to partake in an act of mercy for a group of people that is all too often disrespected and neglected.

I am so deeply grateful that our visits to these various places put a little more love into the world and, hopefully, a ray of sunshine into others’ lives.

“Whatever you did for these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

These shows are truly a gift for both givers and receivers.

 

Beautiful Ballet Pic
Image credit to Musetouch Visual Arts Magazine

 

All, Art, Tales from the Tutu Side

Corps-eography

Performing is one of my favorite parts of being a dancer.  After all, performing is really the purpose, the point of it all (pun intended).  All of those hours of training and sweating and rehearsing in the studio, while rewarding in themselves, are meant to lead to the sharing of those honed skills and artistic gifts with an audience.  Ballet is indeed a performing art, and one could say that a performing art is a relationship, a relationship between the performers and the audience.  Performing is simultaneously one of the most gratifying, humbling, and exalting experiences in the life of a dancer.

 

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These words can definitely be applied to dancers as well.  Image credit to Classic FM’s page on Facebook.

 

 

Moreover, during performance weeks, the regular class and rehearsal schedule is almost always different due to theater time, costumes fittings, etc.  I like the change of pace.  It is a welcome break from the usual expectations of the day-to-day.  There is also a palpably different energy surrounding performances.  Excitement and nerves are in the air.

Here where I dance, we just completed another performance.  I danced as a sylph in the corps de ballet of “Chopiniana” also known as “Les Sylphides.”  The ballet does not have a narrative.  The only plot line consists of a poet (the only male role in the ballet) who is dreaming of and dancing with a “flock” of sylphs.  The ballet was created over one hundred years ago and is of the romantic style, meaning that the tutus are long and the arms and heads are held in a particular way.  It is much softer and more ethereal than other styles of ballet. I truly feel as if we are a painting come to life.

The corps de ballet is the large group of dancers that are often on stage with and behind the soloists and principals.  Though the corps members are not the “main” dancers in any given ballet, one would feel their absence were they not there.  A well-known example of corps de ballet work is the dance of the Waltz of the Flowers and the Snow scene in “The Nutcracker.” Those particular two pieces are extremely aerobic and physically taxing.  But the true on-going challenge for the corps is pronounced right there in its name. “Corps” means “body” in French, and that it is the task of the corps dancers: to move as one living organism.

The corps work for “Chopiniana” was not as technically or physically difficult as Flowers or Snow or other corps roles, but the challenge was the meticulous care put into making sure the small details, the slow movements, the spacing, were uniform and correct.  Even eye-lines and head angles were under scrutiny.

Being in the corps teaches one to be a team player and to be spatially hyper-aware.  If, during a performance, the person in front accidentally goes off the intended mark, one must follow in order to keep the integrity of line.

I once saw the corps of Nutcracker described as the “unsung heroes” of the ballet because they had danced in every show.  That is another challenge or benefit (depending upon one’s perspective) about dancing in the corps.  Unlike principal and soloist roles, which often have multiple casts for a run of a show, the corps is usually the same for every performance. I read once that a professional dancer said she was in her best physical shape when in the corps because she was so strong from dancing in every show.

The next time you attend a ballet or watch one on video, I encourage you to be more aware of the corps de ballet.  Pay attention not only to its actual dancing, but also to its smaller movements, its poses, its angles and headlines.  Many hours of rehearsals and painstaking polishing of details went into that seemingly effortless final product.

Even though it may be an “unsung hero,” the corps is an integral part of a performance and without it the beauty and richness of many classical ballets would certainly be depleted.

 

Swan Lake photo from Ellman's
Image credit to Ellman’s Dancewear Facebook page.