“No one will hand you the keys to your success.”
Ambitious…Competitive……Selfish. These are qualities that characterize any athlete at one time or another. How they approach their work dictates which of these descriptors may be applied. In a field that provides only a fleeting moment in terms of a career, being considered selfish isn’t actually a negative. The minute you decide to pursue a career in ballet you must stop apologizing. No one will hand you the keys to your success. No one will follow you and push you front and center at an audition. It is your choice how quickly you pursue success. How far will you go to get there?
At some point during the education of a young dancer, the relationship among students changes. When they take their very first steps into the studio, we demand politeness and courtesy. We tell them to follow the leader, swapping ideas and mimicking one another and their teacher. But, as they mature, the dynamic changes. The day comes when they must stand on their own, rely on their own mind, and ignore the choices of their fellow dancers (in class anyway). At first, it’s perplexing. You’ve been following suit (or suite, let’s say) for years-succeeding one tendu at a time in a chorus of young dancers or perhaps in a class of older dancers, whose movements you observe and absorb. But you must take responsibility for your movement. It is a crucial stage in dancer development. If ballet is the life you want, you must take every chance you can.
The competitive edge of ballet appears in simple ways – where we stand in the studio, for example. A properly executed and focused barre can only be achieved if you find the perfect spot in the room (marking your territory with technique shoes, leg warmers, foot rollers, and water bottles). It is common knowledge that if you don’t arrive in a timely fashion, you’re out of luck. You can be sure no one is going to stand at the end of the portable barre and offer you their coveted spot.
“Underneath the glowing smiles, gentle port de bras, and delicate footwork are people with dreams. There is no aggression or rudeness, but the bottom line is that no one owes you anything. You only owe it to yourself.”
Center exercises and exercises across the floor provide more prime time to find the best “real estate”. You can stand in the back and still be in the center technically, but you’re cheating yourself back there. We all have our days when that’s where we need to be, but you’re going to get the most attention front and center, without an array of bodies in front of you. You’re sure to challenge yourself if you’re out on the front lines alone, with only mirror reflections or peripheral vision to help you. Once you hit ‘across the floor’, if you want to go again, march yourself back to the corner and do it! Even if you seem to be wandering over alone, ninety-nine percent of the time someone will follow your example and go with you. And if they don’t-too bad.
Ballet has an overall politeness about it…after all it’s typically accompanied by classical music, and eludes to a chivalrous world, where women are lifted off their feet, and where gentle, exquisite miming is the common language. Ballet doesn’t seem like it could ever harbor competition and challenge. But it does. Underneath the glowing smiles, gentle port de bras, and delicate footwork are people with dreams. There is no aggression or rudeness, but the bottom line is that no one owes you anything. You only owe it to yourself.
“This is just as much your class as it is theirs,” said my artistic director to a young student this past week. Class is for everyone, and corrections are free for the taking. I have never felt any ill-will toward someone who makes the most of class. Instead, I am inspired by them. They provide a reminder that I, too, should be seizing the moment. You have come this far, so don’t hold back now. Take what is yours, dance like it’s your last class, and showcase yourself-better to regret doing something, than having done nothing at all…