Your Eye of the Storm

Many of us thought we would be approaching a new era in 2017 with a woman at the helm in the White House.  Many of us had prepared a great celebration to welcome this new era on November 9, 2016, but instead were given what felt like a fatal blow.  It was as though one had gone to get a routine check-up only to find out you have a terminal disease, and your life will never be the same.

Some of us felt like we had been slapped across the face by our worst bully, and no one would stand up to him.  And yes, I mean him, and yes I am talking about women and feminism.  I know that there is much more involved in that many people disapproved of Hilary Clinton.  Many have voiced objections that have nothing to do with the fact that she was a woman candidate (sort of).  Much has been said about how she was more scrutinized than a male candidate, and this is perhaps also debatable, but really it doesn’t matter. What I am saying is that historically, socially, and personally, the woman Hilary Clinton represented something for women’s rights, for women’s place in the world, and many of us felt that although she was not in any way perfect, her presence represented a certain safety for women that had never before been achieved.  Perhaps it was too much to ask to win.  It was too much to ask to actually completely overcome, and we are normalizing the success to the second place winner, which women traditionally take in the grand scheme of things.

I do not want to discuss how her rise to power and her treatment by media and the public is representative of how women are not treated equally, or that her imperfections are abominable because she is a woman.  I do not want to discuss how she is really just a pawn in the political scheme where corporations are seeking to have insatiable power over the poor.  I do not want to talk about how women need to act like men to be successful.

I want to talk about ballet.

On the Saturday morning after the election that I taught my mother’s 10.30 intermediate class, the class was full of women my age and older, some younger.  I am 45 years old, and I teach a class to an amazing resilient beautiful group of women, who show up every week rain, snow or shine.  They stand with dignity and presence at the barre, they are attentive and joyful and serious about the work of ballet.  They treat their bodies respectfully, modifying as they need to.  On this particular morning, the class was a bit more solemn, a bit quieter, and the air felt heavy to me.  It is always a humbling moment for me as I approach the barre to demonstrate the first exercise because I feel the importance of these lives in my hands and I am always honored.

The class was a bit tense as a few little arguments erupted during spacing in the center, some scolding others for talking during the class, and it made me wonder if there was something about the election that had put us all on edge. I cannot verify this through any official data, but to me the connection was clear.  I held intention clearly in my voice and in my presentation of exercises that we would remain calm and hopeful, and we waltzed across the floor.

The class ended, and the transition from the intermediate class to the advanced company class was its usual chaos.  The young able bodied enter in desperation to push their bodies to an extreme, they don’t seem to notice the older women who need to step aside to let them barge in.  Fear in their faces to acknowledge them means that they have to acknowledge that they too will be old one day.  I forgive their arrogance because I was there once too.  I used to turn my nose up to dancers who couldn’t get their legs up high enough, or turn a lot, or jump high and fast.  But I was young then.  Now, as an older dancer, I realize the women in this ballet class are holding their own in a world that would just as soon pass them by.

Ballet is a microcosm of what society values as a whole: beauty, strength, control, gender roles, etiquette, progress, hierarchy, achievement.  What I love about the women in the Saturday morning class is that they subvert these assumptions by engaging with it despite what society feels about the aging body, especially a woman’s.  Women who dance in their later years, can look younger and continue to be more active as they age, this is true, and many scientific studies that encourage exercise will attest to this fact.  But younger dancers can’t hold a candle to the inner strength of character and the willful self-love that women who continue to advance their bodies, despite what society may value.  One day, they will remember these women that were in this class, as they come to a point in their lives where they are starting to be ignored, less valued than they were as a post-teen lean and buoyant.  When an injury has taken their spirit hostage, when they lose a child to miscarriage, when they find themselves at odds with the limits of their once infallible body.  They will remember these women, and hopefully they will lift their heads and make a move to continue and not give up.  That they will partner with their own body in appreciation and kindness.

And I will hold this space for them.  I will continue to show up and teach a class of inclusiveness.  What this means is that I am not lowering a standard, nor am I giving accommodations in order to participate.  Inclusiveness is acknowledging that everyone has something to offer, and their presence is not only welcome, it is needed.   I will not toss a presence aside, nor will I belittle by offering less than what is wanted.  I am merely facilitating a conversation that invokes gesture, dignity, diplomacy in a way that honors a flourishing life.  Ballet is not for the able, but for the willing.

Our world is upside down right now, which makes it all the more important to be sure-footed.  Having an inward map of one’s own body through the real work of ballet gives a sense of ownership in a world where everything seems to be unravelling at a pace that is hard to comprehend.  But stand in your own eye of this storm.  Dance.

Photo credits

Top photo: Bailey Anderson. Bottom photo: Sue Daniels.

August Bournonville Choreography Credo

August Bournonville Choreography Credo

 

The Dance is an art because it demands vocation, knowledge, and ability.

It is a fine art because it strives for an ideal, not only in plastic but also in lyrical respect.

The beauty to which the Dance ought to aspire is not dependent upon taste or pleasure, but is founded on the immutable laws of nature.

The art of Mime encompasses all the feelings of the soul. The Dance, on the other hand, is essentially an expression of joy, a desire to follow the rhythms of the music.

It is the mission of art in general, and the theatre in particular, to intensify thought, to elevate the mind, and to refresh the senses. Consequently, the Dance ought above all to beware of indulging a blasé public’s fondness for impressions which are alien to true art.

Joy is a strength; intoxication, a weakness.

The beautiful always retains the freshness of novelty, while the astonishing soon grow tiresome.

The Dance can, with the aid of music, rise to the heights of poetry. On the other hand, through an excess of gymnastics it can also degenerate into buffoonery. So-called “difficult” feats can be executed by countless adepts, but the appearance of ease is achieved only by the chosen few.

The height of artistic skill is to know how to conceal the mechanical effort and strain beneath harmonious calm.

Mannerism is not character, and affectation is the avowed enemy of grace. Every dancer ought to regard his laborious art as a link in the chain of beauty, as a useful ornament for the stage, and this, in turn, as an important element in the spiritual development of nations.

Translated by Patricia N. McAndrew, 1979

So this happened: Ballet Jam

ballet jam showingHere we all are at the first Ballet Jam at the Altona Grange!

5 weeks!

3 choreographers!

8 dancers!

Thank you to all of the people who came to see these new works and to support this project.  This project is important because it helps to fuel new creativity in our community.  These pieces are lovely.  They are unique, honest, profound, human.  They are new.

I am so proud of everyone for showing up and believing in each other.

Our world is turning inside out and upside down right now, and more than ever, I feel that I need to support the idea that we can make the world however we want to,

if we just do it

stop asking for permission

stop apologizing

stop trying to fit in with someone else’s idea of who you should be…

 

This is why doing something like Ballet Jam is so important.

For this workshop, each choreographer had 7-8 dancers to work with.  The focus of the workshop was about process.  In other words, it was not about the end result, but about how to embark on the craft, how to work with others, how to start seeing a piece come alive before your very eyes.  The other goal was to work with a group of people, and to use them all as equally as possible.  Each choreographer had between 30-45 minutes per week to work on their piece.  A feedback protocol was established so that both dancers and choreographers could talk about what was being experienced.

Alta du Pont has recently moved to Boulder and is pursuing her PHD in Psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder.    I am so glad she has had the chance to share her creative energy with us during the jam.  Her vision of human interaction as dance is evident in this work.

 

Nyxi Ires is a Boulder native.  She is a musician and dancer, and has been itching to try doing some choreography.  In this work, we can see that she has a flair for rigorous and flowing movement.

Sierra Govett is from Boulder and grew up dancing at Boulder Ballet.  She is pursuing a BFA in dance from the University of Utah, as well as majoring in Environmental Studies.  This piece is about birds.  She has a wonderful way of working with patterns.

 

Ballet Jam: Galactic Swirls, People in Cars, and Effervescence

These are my made up titles for the three new works in progress that will be shown this Wednesday to culminate the first 5-week Ballet Jam!

About 3 months ago, I had the idea to create Ballet Jam, a workshop for female dancers to explore creating new works in a supportive environment.  I launched the idea on International Dance Day.  And I am so thrilled to say that it is happening.  It’s not just a dream…

But first, I want to tell you a little story…

Right before I launched my first ever workshops this June, I took my mother out to Fort Wayne, Indiana to see my brother and his family: sister-in-law, two nieces who are married, and one with three kids, Brady, Olivia, and Porter.  One of our evenings was spent in Woodburn watching Brady play baseball.  This was a very new experience for me, as I had never gone to watch a little league baseball game.   I was very impressed by how well they played and that they actually knew what they were doing.

However, Brady sat out for the first half of the game.  I wasn’t sure why.  My mother kept saying, “Can’t we go tell the coach that his great-grandmother is here, and she wants to see her great-grandson play baseball!”  We all laughed, as the entire extended family sat in a row, with our own special chairs, sandwiches, and cake, right behind Brady as he too, sat and watched his team play.

But what Brady did in the dugout was to cheer on his team.  He had all the best chants, as well as some moves too.  Finally, he was put into the outfield, where he continued to rile up the rest of the team, until the entire outfielders were chanting along with him.

When it was Brady’s turn to go up to bat, I really couldn’t stand the suspense.  I kept wondering how he was feeling with his whole family there to watch.  Brady practiced swinging while waiting for his turn.  “He’s got a great swing I think!”,  I said to the family.  My brother sighed, “Yeah he really does, but he never swings when he’s up to bat.”  Sure enough, Brady got up, stood with perfect posture and poise.  You could see the energy in every part of his body, his eyes unblinking, focused in on the pitcher.  He didn’t swing once.  Striking out, he walked back to the dugout with his head hanging low.  Here we were again, watching Brady, watch his team…

Why not just swing the bat and see what happens?  This is what we kept telling Brady.  He said he just got really scared up there on the plate, and was afraid of failing.

Ballet Jam is kind of like Brady and his bat.  We know we have the skills, we’ve been practicing how to dance and perform for years.  It is time to just swing the bat.  This is what the choreographers are doing during this 5 week session.  Its about getting out there and doing it, and seeing what comes out of it.

I created Ballet Jam because I see too many dancers on the sidelines, watching and not doing…

Galactic Swirls is a piece that  evolved out of guided improvisation, but then took a turn into very specific choreography.  It was Nyxi’s way of feeling out the group and learning how to guide others in her vision of a mandala inspired piece.

People in Cars is so named by what Alta described as a moment of inspiration, that we are all in our own worlds, doing the same thing.  Alta built this piece like one would build a great fire, setting up each bit of kindling in particular layers, and then setting it alight.

Effervesense is what comes to mind when I dance Sierra’s work, as it has a rebounding energy that floats and bubbles from one moment to the next.  Her movements ebb and flow, as does the music, and she trusts her dancers’ intuition.

I hope they don’t mind me naming their pieces, but this is what comes to mind after observing and dancing in the process.   I believed in the process, and I believed that if we waited and had the space for these works, they would find their way.  Of course, if one comes to the informal showing, you will find out what the real name of each piece is!

My niece sent us all a text message a few weeks ago saying that Brady hit the ball and brought two kids home.  We were all so very excited to hear this good news.

 

Ballet Jam! But why….

During Ballet Jam recently, one of the choreographers asked me, what is the purpose of this experience?  It seems like an obvious question, given that I designed and produced a workshop to explore the creative collaborative nature of choreography.  However, as we embarked on this conversation, I was actually stumped.

When I started thinking on this idea a while ago, it was a desire to support women dancers, in ballet specifically, to practice the craft of choreography both as dancers learning new works, and as choreographers creating work.  There is more to a dance performance than the final show, the shiny product that everyone sees at the end of a grueling experience of buffing, carving, meddling, tweaking, fixing.

But there was something about her question that seemed to go deeper.  And it took me some time to sit with it, and to really figure out why I wanted to bring this experience to others.

For the purpose of not wanting to implant my ideas and values on others in their creative process, I have intentionally kept myself passive in instigating what the choreographers and dancers should do.  I merely gave some basic guidelines about how to treat each other with kindness and respect, and how to give positive and supportive feedback.  My intention was to have a positive experience for everyone, in order to encourage and nourish new creative works in my community.

But there was something else, if I am to be truly honest, as to why I wanted to create this workshop.

Let me tell you a little story.

Well a few little stories wrapped up together.

My mother told me a story about her first show choreographing at Boulder’s Dinner Theater back in the mid 1970’s.  She had recently blown out her knee, and was forced to show up on the first day on crutches.  The musical was South Pacific, which contains some big dance scenes, but most of the actors had no dance training.  She had to find a way to do her job which was to create dance numbers in a limited amount of time, with people who “couldn’t dance their way out of a paper bag”, as she was often known for saying, without being able to demonstrate anything.

How did she accomplish this task?  What were her tactics?

She continued to choreograph musicals with talented actors and singers who had little dance training.  One in particular, was the lead role in George M, about a famous Broadway icon and tap dancer from the 1900’s. He had never tap danced before.  She had to teach him how to do every step.

Boulder Ballet’s Ballet in the Park, is an annual occurrence every year that I started in order to bring free dance experiences to my community.  Every year, Ana Claire brings the children up to the stage to try out some ballet steps.  This year, a teenager with down-syndrome took to the center stage, amidst all of the children.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.  She moved beautifully and loved every moment of what she was doing.

 

When I lived in London, I went to a dance “audition”, based on an ad I saw on a wall that wanted tall dancers.  I was often excluded from walking into an audition based on my height alone, and so I jumped at the chance to go.  I was the only one there at the “audition”.  The woman was doing a one-woman performance about Jimi Hendrix’s lovers, and she wanted me to be a giant pillow on the bed, and dance around inside a giant pillow, after laying completely still on stage for 40 minutes, while inside this giant pillow.  In exchange, I would be offered a free meal.  I told her I would think about it.  I left, and never returned her phone calls.  I actually felt bad for not calling her back, at the time.  I look back on this now and wonder why I even considered it.

The world of dance today is brutal.  Auditioning is rigorous, scary, and demoralizing for many dancers.  They show up, dance for up to 3 hours trying to please a choreographer so they will be chosen.  In a short amount of time, they have to prove to their potential employer that they are the best, most competent, and the most willing to please and do whatever the choreographer wants from them.  Once a dance company is chosen, the dancers prove to the world how great a choreographer is.

What do these stories have in common?  What is the true role of a choreographer?  Is it to serve a vision above all else?  The true role of a choreographer is to hone the ability to bring out the best in others.  A good choreographer can create a dance with whatever material is available to them.   It is not about coming up with the hardest, trickiest move.  It’s about giving the people you have to work with the chance to do their best work.

People are not perfect, they won’t do what you want them to.  But they might do something else that is equally profound and beautiful that will work just as well.

I see egos erupt in the world of choreography, as dancers become more and more disposable.  This is a reflection of the McDonald’s culture of a disposable, ready-made life.  But truly, the action of creating work on others is not concrete.  There is no recipe, but it must be done with care and intuition.  Choreography is a giant conversation, and it is a role that should not be taken lightly.

Ballet Jam is about creating something with what you have available, with limited time and resources.  I believe that this is how to best practice the craft.  It doesn’t matter what you have, it’s how you do it that matters.  If you have 3 old and fat dancers, or 25 skinny leggy ones, what can you do?  What can they do?  What do you want to say?  How do you want to say it?  How can they say it?

In the real world, time and space cost money.  This workshop is designed with limitations because this is what happens when embarking on your own work out in the world, raising your own money, finding a venue, producing a show.  Being able to create quickly, efficiently, kindly, is what can put you on a path to making your own dance world live.

Converging on Sixty-Four Rond de Jambe and the Bournonville Slice

This should be the title of my first novel, perhaps.

On Monday morning I left my house at 7am to get to the Altona Grange in time to mop the wooden floor with vinegar and water, and to figure out how to use a percolator so that dancers could come and have a really good cup of coffee before class.

As soon as I parked my car and turned off the engine, something in my body relaxed and I felt the openness of nature all around me.  When I got out, a brown spotted woodpecker flew out of its old tree stump, up toward the trees surrounding the property.  My ears filled with silent air,  my skin softened.

I felt truly happy and at peace.  It was because I owned this place for just a few hours, and I could make the world my own, even if it was only for a brief time.

I set out flowers, made coffee, cleaned the floor, put a table outside under the shade of the trees with a lovely red checkered table cloth.  Before everyone arrived I collected my thoughts under the trees with a cup of coffee, pain au lait and some strawberry jam, while I waited for my boyfriend to arrive to help me set up the barres we had made over the weekend.  I was in heaven.

I thought about who would show up, and what was about to happen…

Will they survive the sixty-four rond de jambe at the barre?

Did they survive the sixty-four rond de jambe?

Yes they did.  And more.

Maybe some of them did 57 rond de jambe.  More or less.

I trust this work, and I trust its history, and I trust the people who felt that it was important to preserve it.   Doing this syllabus is not just an arbitrary experience, I realized, but one that included a connection to old ways and old ideas.

Like making sourdough bread.  Like hanging clothes outside on a line.  Like walking to school in the morning.

There is a special way to get up into the air, to hover over the planet for a moment with ease.   It doesn’t require special straps to adhere to one’s body, it doesn’t require any special equipment.  It’s just kicking one leg out from the other, and it sends you up.  I call it the Bournonville slice.  It is an essential quality to this style of dancing, letting the body propel itself naturally upward through momentum.  As I watched the dancers start to get this idea of slicing, a beautiful thing happened.  They all started smiling.   It was joyful movement.

In this big beautiful old room with creaking wooden floors and the resonant piano, there are no mirrors.  There are only windows looking out into the mountains, the sky, the trees, and the birds.  On the first day, it was embarrassingly quiet as people arrived.  It almost felt like church.  Except with better coffee, a barre, and a rosin box.

The sixty-four rond de jambe at the barre built the strength in the hips, so that when it came to the swinging action of the coupe jete, it would be easy.   By the third day, dancers were embodying a way of moving that was both rigorous and natural to them. Many of the combinations incorporate exact rhythms which are essential to building buoyancy.  It comes to the ears, into the heart, and then out through the body.

Working with Alaina on the music weeks before hand, she and I discussed the importance of tempo.  For all of the barre exercises, we had to find the music, as it wasn’t in the syllabus.  We took care to find the right kind of feeling in the music, so that the movements would be correct.

This kind of work, is where I as a teacher, do nothing.  The movements and the music are the teachers.  We are all learners.  I was more an observer than a teacher, simply guiding the group to listen and to follow.  Community converges with a common pulse from a bygone era.  And I trust it.

This past week was a converging of very special people and I am overwhelmed when I think of how I was surrounded by so many wonderful people all in a short space of time.  It made me realize how truly energizing, enriching, and empowering community can be.  It made me realize that individuals are the center of a community that is their own, and this was mine.

Memorial to Strange Bird

Strange Bird is a memorial.

Some of you may know her, but not really realize that you do.
She isn’t a bird, and she isn’t strange, but that’s what they call her.

This is what we call women who don’t meet a certain criteria, and it is never to their face, but behind their backs when we just can’t find any other way to describe, so we say….

Well, she’s a strange bird.

But secretly we admire them, and are glad they are among us, because they hold dear what many might toss aside, and fight for what is right, even when no one else is around to hear it.  They are often alone, but they believe so strongly in spite of that.  They don’t go along with a crowd just because, and this is why they don’t fit in, and this is why we call them a Strange Bird.  But Strange Birds are needed, and they help us to see things more clearly.

Bernie Sanders is a Strange Bird.  He has been for many years.  He has stood all alone in the cavern of an empty congress, talking to no one about what is most important to him.  Even though no one was there to hear him, he said it anyway.

Frida Kahlo, a woman whose absolute pain was her absolute beauty, painted every day whether or not anyone would see her paintings.

Marta Becket who saved a little opera house in Amargosa, California, danced every night even when no one was there to see it.

They cherish their solitude and they love what they love.

Today, I taught my first master class.  One 14 year old girl showed up.
Because I know Strange Birds, I know one when I see one.

They are often alone, they are often willing to stick with something without being told to.  They don’t give up, and are thrilled by the challenge in and of itself.

But Strange Birds don’t have to be alone…

On this Memorial Day, I wish to honor all people who died for a cause, who had more than their own self-interests at heart.  They are all people that saw the need to contribute towards something bigger than themselves.  It might be that some of them were misled into believing in something, or forced to go, as in the Vietnam war.  Those men and women in Vietnam tried to maintain a sense of community and integrity despite the atrocity and confusion as to what and why they were there.  Because they said they would, they did what they were asked to do.  Draft-dodgers were trying to avoid the confrontation of having to do something they did not believe in, and I too honor those who chose to resist in this way.

I observe that technology allows us to remain aloof and connected at the same time.  In one way it allows us to be more selective about what we wish to be a part of, and in other ways much less committed.

There was once a time when a handshake meant something.  Eye contact, and a conversation was something you could believe in.   We are losing what it means to exist body to body.

This is what I believe is so important about teaching dance, and for me, because my genre is ballet, I wish to preserve this form for future generations in a way that many others might not.  I chose to see and experience ballet as a way of being in the world that is diplomatic and egalitarian.

Not what most experience when they embark on a ballet career.  Just yesterday I talked to a woman in her 30’s, who “used to dance but I was too big so I quit”.  She talked about how roles were depicted by costume sizes, bullying was rampant among the teens, and she was often told by her teachers to stop eating and lose weight.  This was a beautiful woman in her 30’s, with 4 kids, and had an intelligent and vibrant life as a mother and nurse.  I was sad that she had this experience with dance, and she refuses to allow her children to attend ballet classes now.

This is a huge can of worms, because on one hand, ballet is very hard and has a high level of commitment and dedication needed to obtain proficiency.  Body type and proficiency has become synonymous in ballet, and although there is resistance to this idea in many schools and companies, there is little change in the bodies who make it to the top in ballet.

Where did this come from?

On the eve of the French Revolution, starving fishwives marched to Versailles clad in weapons tied around their skirts, while banging pots and pans, dragged the King of France out of bed and marched another 6 hours back to Paris to make him convene the constitution and sign the “Declaration on the Rights of Man”.  The French Revolution used women in this way, because the military would not fight women.  Women offered forth their own “Declaration of the Rights of Women”, penned by Olympe de Gouges.  But women were told to stay at home, to stop their protests in the streets, banging their pots pans and shouting.  Thanks but no thanks, they were told.
Olympe de Gouges, was a playwright, political activist and feminist writer in the 18th century during the French Revolution.  She confronted issues such as gender equality and the rights of slaves.  She was guillotined during the Reign of Terror in the aftermath of fanatical change that the French Revolution brought.  Olympe de Gouges was the voice of reason and progress in the chaos of progress…
For this Memorial Day, I choose to remember the idea that these women fought for.  These are the Strange Birds we see today, that in spite of a perceived failure over 200 years ago, they choose to keep going.

I believe that many of them became ballerinas and took to the stage.   The ballerina life was a way for women to have a voice and to live outside of the prescribed rules of society.  In the technique as developed by ballerinas like Marie Taglioni, her gentle power and presenting hands, is what I believe to be the true lineage of ballet: within the gestures are the hidden meaning of diplomacy.

Ballet is perhaps an extended agreement beyond the handshake.  The integrity of taking on a role and performing it to an audiences is a contract.

Taking a space and showing up, is what soldiers do, is what people who go to see Bernie Sanders do, these are the aspects of the Strange Bird, Olympe de Gouge, who in their hope to have a better world, show up.

The idea of Strange Bird came to me in a vision many years ago, I saw her standing there with pots and pans dangling around her waist and down to her ankles.  I thought it was funny, and for almost 15 years before I created Strange Bird and the Cloud Spirits, I kept remembering this vision I had in my mind.  These ideas come and don’t let me go, and I have to try to understand them.

This is how I have come to understand this vision I had many years ago, and how I decided to perform it.

My life partner is an Iraq veteran and when I told him of my idea while in grad school, he helped me to make the skirt.  As a musician, he put the pots, pans, whisks, spatulas together in a whimsical melodious way. In the living room he encouraged me to put it on and dance around, and to see if I could make my escape out from under it, like a snake shedding its skin.

There are many ways that this Strange Bird makes her meaning known, and I perform it with the utmost respect and unknowing, because I am still trying to understand who she is and what she means to us.

So, when you see someone who you might think is a bit off, odd, marginal, you might be tempted to say “Strange Bird”, and if you do, stop to think that maybe the reason is because they, in their everyday living, are reminding us that diversity, acceptance and diplomacy are needed, and then go ahead and say “Strange Bird”, with a little bow or curtsy or a tip of your hat.

The Bournonville Challenge at the Fort Wayne Dance Collective

This painting was done by my brother, Paul Demaree, of my mother Barbara Demaree teaching a ballet class in Boulder, Colorado, where I grew up.

Do you see her fabulous stance?  Do you see the boys trying to emulate it?

This stance and alignment is something special.

Do you see how it is gentle and powerful at the same time?

Do you see the energy in the stillness…

This to me is what ballet means, what it does.  Ballet means what it does.

This painting is in the guest bedroom at my brother’s house where I am staying here in Fort Wayne while I visit my family.  I consider this place to be my second home.  I came here to help them start the Firefly Coffee House over 15 years ago, and I found that the people here were among the nicest and funniest the world over.  Having just spent five years living in London, Fort Wayne was a welcome transition back to living in America.  I was comforted by the small town friendliness and inspired by the big-city offerings that it has.  Fort Wayne is a fertile place for artists and new ideas to flourish.

During the romantic era, ballet represented a new way of being in the world: that of gentle power.  A revolutionary idea not unlike what Martin Luther King and Gandhi emulated in the peaceful protest.  Ballerinas took to the streets and the stage in those days, and told the stories that were happening in the revolution through ballet.

August Bournonville developed the romantic style at the Royal Danish Ballet, and his classes have been preserved and are still used there to this day.  Here in America, I see the need for new and young dancers to understand this aspect of ballet, because there is more to it than tricks and kicks.  Ballet originated in Europe, but today there are ballet dancers in every country in the world.  It truly is a universal language, and I believe it is one of peace.

Embodying peace requires great strength and control, and constant upkeep.  The powers of concentration to not react, but to remain in balance, to know how far to go, to know how far not to go.  These are all part of what it means to do and learn ballet, and these are important qualities to hone for a peaceful, powerful, flourishing life.

I am so proud to have been invited to teach a master class at the Fort Wayne Dance Collective on the Bournonville Daily Classes.   Something that I have been wanting to do for a long time, and with in days of contacting the Collective, they jumped at the chance to give it a try.  Bravo to you Fort Wayne for being open to learning and exploring in exciting and brave ways.

Thanks to the quick on their feet thinking of Jarin Hart and John Byrne at the Fort Wayne Dance Collective:

The dancers in Fort Wayne, Indiana are going to take on my very first Bournonville Challenge Friday May 27, from 10-11.30 at the Fort Wayne Dance Collective 437 E. Berry St. Suite 203, Fort Wayne, IN 46802

Cost is $10.

Open to all ballet dancers intermediate and above!

We will be trying on some 19th century ballet combinations, as preserved through the Royal Danish Ballet: the Bournonville Daily Classes.

I will be selecting exercises from the Monday class.

To read more on this workshop I am offering, click HERE

Bournonville Warning…

“There are 16 grand plié in the Tuesday Adagio”, I tell my mother as she is coming down the hallway, slowly with her cane.  She stops to look at me, she laughs saying “You can’t give them 16 grand plié, you will have to change it.”  We are both rather amused at the prospect of casually telling our modern ballet dancers, that what they will be doing is an Adagio that includes a ridiculous amount of grand plié as well as some rather difficult pivots in all directions.  And then two exercises later, again with pirouette, and then again later, with “grande changement”.

What is going on with Tuesdays and the grand plié?

Later on in the evening, I joined my mother in her room before she and I went to bed.   One of the things we had been talking about was what it will be like to give and take a ballet class without mirrors.  Mirrors are a constant in most studios, and some have two walls of mirrors, so you can’t escape any angle of imperfection.  It is also a two dimensional image, that doesn’t accurately reflect a person’s quality and way of moving in space.  She had written something down about her experience of learning to dance in England without mirrors.  It went something like this:  “You learn to see yourself in your own mind, you see yourself doing the steps, and you do them.  You see the space around you, and you engage in your imagination.  That’s where I learned to use my eyes, was in a room without mirrors.”

As we were talking about this, I started to make a connection between the grand plié and the room with no mirrors.  In today’s ballet class, I have rarely had a grand plié in center, and when there is one, it seems to be traumatic.  People often fall over, and there is a tenseness in the room until it’s over.  The reason being, I believe, is that grand plié is very difficult in the center, because in order to do it, you have to be perfectly in line.  This is not a line that you can look at in the mirror to see if it is correct, it is a line you have to feel.  It is a test of your inner most connection to gravity at every level through movement.   This action is where we learn the essential nature of alignment in motion.

I started to imagine that if dancers were experiencing movements, more than worrying about what they looked like, they would very much want to do 16 grand plié during an Adagio, because it was a practice in their alignment, and building the strength to be able to take the air with ease.  They weren’t concerned with their false two dimensional image, but were desiring the fullness of an experience which was to have as much control of their bodies as they could.

In the forward to the “Bournonville School: The Daily Classes” Walter Terry describes the nature of the Danish style through Kristen Ralov’s dancing: “ …soared toward the audience with open arms in that exuberant Danish leap which I always think of as an embrace-in-air.”   I often describe the first port de bras as a generous gesture, and I begin my classes with a balance that finishes with the presenting of the hands outwards.  It is my way of asking the class to participate in a way that is giving, and outward towards the world.  The opening of one’s hands and under arms is also a gesture of vulnerability.  My observation is that being vulnerable is not considered an admirable quality.  But choosing to be vulnerable requires great bravery and immense inner strength both emotionally and physically.

The strength of ballet comes from the will to be vulnerable.  The will to step out on a precipice, like a ball just about to roll down a hill, is the nature of the craft: harnessing the energy at that precipice in order to fly through the air in giving embrace.

That ballet is beautiful is the embodiment of the power of vulnerability, the natural strength of softness, and the boldness of stillness.

As I often say, ballet is revolutionary.  Tuesdays, is the day of war and battle, and the Tuesday class prepares us for the battle that is ballet….

To be continued…