“…ballet is hard enough…They respect you. So respect yourself…”
The dancers of tomorrow have often come to mind this past week, as my students prepare to take the stage this coming Sunday. As dance teachers our task is to prepare these future dancers (I realize ballet is not as important as receiving a general education, but it still feels like a big deal). Professional dancers, however, are it. Now. Our careers are off (andddddd, they’re off!), whether we like them or not. But it’s what we do with these careers that builds our character and directly influences the students around us. Their technique and style is shaped and re-shaped constantly by the artistry of both their teachers and their idols.
As a professional dancer, you are never alone. Unless it is the rare occasion that you are in the studio totally solo, giving yourself barre or practicing a variation (bourréeing in the dark perhaps even – “Flutter Jody!! Flutter!!”), there is always someone watching. Teachers, the artistic director, potential donors, patrons, and students. No matter the size or type of company you’re in, there will be people who look up to you and mimic your every move. They are baby ballerinas, students, junior company members, second company members, and trainees-all the next in line. And they want to be just like you. (God forbid, they may actually be extremely gifted and give you a run for your money!)
We all have a constant fan club, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. They sneak glances at us in class, pick up on our style and our movement quality, and ask for advice about pointe work and increasing flexibility. Think about it. I know a lot of the habits I have developed for studio life, I “stole” from someone else. We can’t help but act that way. You see someone older and wiser, a professional in their field, doing something, and whether it makes much sense or not, you want to do the same. The sharing of information continues on with every generation, building an invisible support system in a way. After all, ballet is hard enough-we can all use some pointers to make the experience just a little bit easier and a little bit less painful.
“The dancers of tomorrow and the dancers of today all have the same dream.”
Since we’re sharing for the greater good of dance, what if these followers copied someone’s technique? Or what if you could “steal” artistry? Technically (/obviously), this is not at all possible. There’s no way to make yourself a carbon copy of another ballerina or male dancer. If that was a thing, I would be Sara Mearns or Sarah Lamb by now. If only life were that simple. But as much as you’ll hate me for saying this, do you really want to be someone else anyway? Someone everyone’s already drooled over countless times before? That would be the easy way out. Good news though-no matter what level you’re at, you can take from whomever you want. At any time. Watch. Learn. Try. I say it to my students all the time-“If I were you, I’d watch what they’re doing, try to ‘steal’ from them, and do the same.” And I say “steal” because it seems awkward and “copycat-esque”. But it’s perfectly acceptable. Keep your eyes peeled because there is limitless information for you to absorb if you are willing.
We can all learn from one another at every level of the game. A LOT. Sometimes the things we pick up aren’t even crucial to performance (i.e. hairstyles, leos, warmups), but it’s the way you carry yourself that will stand out to your admirers. Don’t stress or overanalyze. I ask you to look around you…in the studio…and backstage…because the eyes of little ballerina hopefuls are watching you all the time. Be their role model. You are amazing to them. Even if there’s no spirit left in you at all, at least do it for them. They respect you. So respect yourself and your time and your work. Be mindful of your approach and your attitude. Because there’s always someone beneath you who would give anything to be in your pointe shoes. The dancers of tomorrow and the dancers of today all have the same dream. But you can make the difference for them. Seeing your dedication and your drive will inspire them. So spread the Joy…Of Dance.