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