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Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

I am a dancer with Minneapolis based James Sewell Ballet, a small, contemporary ballet company. I also choreograph independently.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Striving Toward an Easy Virtuosity

In class today I marveled at what it is we do, every day. We take this ballet class and when we get a certain amount along in the ranks we get fewer and fewer corrections. The daily experience becomes largely about self-care: self-correcting and self-acceptance.

Right now, as I continue to negotiate my back, I begin by concentrating on correct, unforced placement. Since my injury manifests where spine meets pelvis, I’ve lost some flexibility and ability to rotate in my hips. (Not that I had much to start with!) My first position is a defiant L if not an outright V. No straight lines for this girl, and interestingly, I can get in touch with my turnout faster and can begin to better use what I have. From this conservative physical place I have a fighting chance of “working it”, of cultivating increased and healthy turnout throughout the class. I am thankfully in a company where I can do this, where I can be trusted to give my body what it needs. This is not the ballet tradition.

As dancers (as women specifically, I think, as we are a dime a dozen in this art form) it is ingrained in us not to question but to simply do! And so we have the potential to remain childlike in the workplace, taking orders and stifling our thoughts. (This is the ballet tradition.) Great inner lives are cultivated in this way but it is not my cup of tea.

My goal is to forever be a student, to maintain an attitude of open-minded receptivity. Simultaneously, I give myself permission to take some things with a grain of salt, to see the other side of an opinion. Here’s the catch: balancing being a student while retaining the physical clarity that one is a professional: one must be oneself; one must commit to individualisms, singularities, quirks. I’ll never forget my summer in NYC studying Taylor. Mary Cochran suddenly yelled out, “You guys aren’t weird enough!” This is the challenge, the balancing act, of the student who is professional.

I must muster the confidence to keep my sights on my own potential, to believe in my dancing through the inevitable bleak patches. There are many plateaus as we ebb and flow between studio and stage. The many one-night stands we do on tour are gratifying in their way but are immensely draining, sapping us of consistency. We must therefore develop consistency internally, being true to ourselves and the dancers we, hopefully, know ourselves to be.

So in class today I didn’t get much in the way of external attention but I was ok with that. Today I was at peace with that because I was able to give attention to myself. I remained calm and I danced with ease and simplicity. Increasingly these are my goals. Yes, I want to continue to strive toward virtuosity, but mostly I want freedom and ease, to be able to fill out a still moment and not feel anxious, like I should be “doing something”. I want to simply stand on my own two feet and not wobble. I want to take barre barefoot and put pointe shoes on for center and have this transition, this earthquake of a change, feel seamless and organic. I want to be able to curve my spine and swing my head and in the next breath stop on a dime, fully erect and “balletic”. I think about these things as I take class. They take practice and patience and persistence. Some days I have all those things, some days none of them. But I keep going anyway, traversing whatever plateau I’m now one, hoping to spy the next one higher up.

The ultimate hope is that these skills will transfer to the stage: ease of feeling, patience, self-acceptance. From my vantage point, for what it’s worth, I see that I am slowly, with the pace of a turtle, (my first word!) beginning to incorporate these ideas, these ways of being and thinking, into my performing. I want performing to be like daily life, not so pressured and precious but an everyday kind of ritual with depth instead of pomp.


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