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I think useful information on ballet schools is a bit hard to find on the Internet. Information about the process, what to do, expect, avoid. It’s not truthful when you do find it. You just jump in. But there is a process if your child wants a career in dance. There are many factors, but if you are starting out as we did, there are some things you should know, and if you ever need someone to talk to, you can always ask me what to do. I’ll try to help. That may not be the best recommendation, as I am certainly no expert-no one can be-but at least I am not politicking for anyone. Yes, my daughter is in ballet. I think this is her sixth year, maybe going on seven, I may have lost track.
According to my teachers eleven was a fine age to start then (9 or 10 being the youngest to begin seriously), but you are always hearing professional dancers (and non) stating they started nearer their birth. In my opinion, it is wrong for dancers to tell other dancers that, because they should know better. I think the Russian methodology is the best, for one thing, most of their dancers can concede to the age of around 10, because that is the earliest those schools take them and they begin, seriously, to study ballet. You have to wonder about the truth of other statements when the serious study of anything cannot begin much earlier, and certainly not ballet. They do say, and correctly, too, that they studied or took other dancing, gymnastics, etc., and this is probably true, but even they know it is not like ballet and is different. It might have helped them, but they do not feel the need to relate that usually because the training at those schools is so formidable as to put into the shadows any previous lesser instruction. There is really no comparison. Why? This will become apparent in a later section of the article.
I think there is a truly correct and comprehensive method to the study of ballet. I am always searching for that in schools, teachers, pictures, videos, performances. It is what you have to learn to look at first. I do not think my daughter would have known, starting out, what was good for her, and I am aggressive about what I desire and look for in any educational situation which affects my children. I have 3, and I went to my first audition, with my son, at SAB, about twenty-one years ago. He was not accepted, but continued to dance in Russian schools in NY until he was about 12 years old. He lost interest in it and the outside pressures of being a boy in ballet just became too much for him. He did learn some things about ballet, and sitting down to watch a ballet performance now, brings all of that back to him. He has always been a dancer, though, and never shies from performing. He is a ham. I have followed ballet for about 40 years.
I know how to go about looking, though I was not a professional dancer, I danced, and the choices were easier when I was growing up, and I was lucky to get good instruction. I had opportunities to dance professionally, but I finally realized in college that I did not want to become a dancer exclusively. In all ways, that decision is very personal to the dancer. Proper instruction, correct instruction is probably the most important piece of the ballet, or dancing, puzzle. I do not know how I was so lucky to have had the teachers I did, when I did, and where I did. Part of the reason this occurred, because although my mother did not accompany me at all, she had schooled me in the basics of ballet and dance knowledge, cautioning me extensively, prior to my going out and signing up for classes and because she bought me books, or gave them to me, and I read them. I was not averse to reading or listening. She also researched and made suggestions where I could go, and I went there and she turned out, and they turned out, to be right for me. After that, I found things on my own. It is cyclical. Things change in ballet schools sometimes as often as they do in public schools, and programs-one year it is good, the next, not so. It depends on who is teaching there at the time, the program, mission or philosophy, and some other factors. More variables affect parent and student over time, but initially, it should not be too difficult to find good training, despite the vast differences between schools. I think this constant “polishing” of the process, program, and elevator effect does not benefit every generation or level of dancers at the same school, for usually, in this country, in most cities and towns, there is nowhere to go for top ballet training you find. The problem is continuity, but it is also cost, change, greed, and outside influences. But when it gets to a point, you have to take it into your own hands and find what you are looking for-what your child needs.
You can go to the horse’s mouth in New York City, but what if you are not accepted at ABT or SAB? Well, because it is New York City, there are other good teachers and schools to go to. It is an international and cosmopolitan city and there is no dearth of dancers there.You can also find good ballet teachers in other places, but it is a crapshoot sometimes. You do not necessarily know. They can be in the strangest and most unlikely places, or they can be right around the corner-for the time being, anyway. That is why I look for Russian now. It is just so much easier. I do not have to look at French, American, or British systems, because my daughter now makes the decision on where she wants to study and what. As a parent, Russian just makes more sense, because Russia has a system of ballet training- the Vaganova method. It focuses on correct placement, the correct technique and levels, but most importantly, probably, to me, as a parent, it also is designed to reduce the possibility of injury in what is a very difficult art. I said art. Not sport. It is not athletic. It is discipline. It is part science of movement, part muscle training and part art, then mostly art.
Some parents do not always care about injury enough. Some parents do not realize the risk of injury. Some parents will not accept that their child might not have the facility required for the correct and plausible performance of ballet, or have children who have not had good training or training in time. Some parents were dancers and know exactly what to do! I think a lot of Russians have come to the U.S. and other places to teach ballet in the Vaganova style and for whatever reasons, it is a wonderful opportunity to learn ballet with them as they truly know more about it, are passionate about training, and knowledgeable. They have to start somewhere, and sometimes their options are not always the options extended to those teachers at the actual Vaganova schools where the children are handpicked, out of hundreds or thousands, for the opportunity to study ballet at a state funded school. Here, we bring our (often) faulty children, without any gymnastics, bad feet, poor attitude, inflexible backs or legs, poor posture, and even more frequently, our money, to ballet schools, without having had even a physical, or x-rays, to determine their capability for such a regimen, and demand them to make stars out of them. This is NOT how it is in Europe, and worse we bring our sense of entitlement.
In America, it is about the students you get whose parents can afford (or not) ballet training, the mentality is different, and until recently, due to so much promotion, and competitions, such as YAGP, ballet was not in the headlines. Only by promoting it, has it become more popular, for boys and for girls, or considered a career option. Respectable. A sport (to make it acceptable to some Americans). And a sense of it being far less demanding, complicated and fickle, than it really is. In America, until people become more aware of its difficult requirements, many people will continue to frown upon it, as they are basically uncultured and working-class people, who have considered for several decades, ballet as a starving art form, or dance as being “gay,” or not an intellectual pursuit, nor as having the prospect of wealth. In some cases, it is a middle class parent who aspires to have their child succeed as a team dancer, or competition dancer, who enrolls their child in ballet, gymnastics, and theatre, modelling, etc., and for ballet, this focus is not correct. It is not a good formula, not one based on knowledge of the art of ballet, what is required, the prospects, but only the early physical success and a trophy as proof. A ballet dancer’s career spans a lot longer time than most professional athletes, actually, and unlike sports, but as in theatre, maturity is required, and artistry. Artistry is not acquired in early stages of youth, such as the understanding of the emotions and stories involved in some mature ballets, or the sense of freedom required, by many years of practice, to express oneself uniquely in performance of mature subject matter, and to do so fluidly. It is this part of ballet, I believe, where most dancers with physical potential actually fail in ballet. They are not artists and perhaps never will be.
Ballet is competitive, but first it is discipline. As it was designed, it was discipline for the longest time and then possibly, much later, some success might be possible. Maybe. It is easy to forget, in the little ballet studio, that there are a world of other dancers out there, and that they might have several distinct advantages over Americans, in general. Training is number one. Ballet, of course, had its starting point, too, like all dancers, but then a Golden Age (occurring almost 200 years later), and more structure (another 100 years), then becoming almost scientific (50 years), and again a resurgence (50 years), again (20 years) and again now (20 years). There is a phenomenal (and interesting) history to the art of ballet, but it was never Shun Yen, or gymnastics, or jazz, or a sport- at anytime in its development. It never should be or will be really viewed as an art and a sport, or it will truly cease to be ballet. The movement to even discuss this is one to capitalize on the financial opportunities and promotion of it as a commodity and everyone seems to getting into that game, but the step to make it an Olympic sport, like discus throwing is absurd. This might improve everyone’s physical health, increase advertising demand, create paycaps for “artists” or make it acceptable overall to men, and others, but it will do absolutely nothing for the art of ballet. Ballet like that is without art. It is without stories, music, entrepreneurs, shows,E and in that arena, no true art is possible. Just gladiators and lions.
Everybody dances (if you go to New York), but in many places in between the coastal cities, the only dancing done is at weddings or a folk ensemble at school, or not at all, depending on your sex, religion, persuasion and coolness factor. It was not until I went to New York, in college, that I had occasion to go to clubs in the city where all the men (almost) got up and danced. Where I grew up, all of the above applied. The only professional or aspiring dancers you saw were in local companies or at weddings. It was a physical impairment of men, that they “could not dance,” would claim they “had no rhythm,” and no one made an effort to persuade them. NO one challenged any of these false hoods. Even now, it is extreme to label a child as “trans” when it is normal to go through questions of individual sexuality. Dancing has nothing to do with that, except it is still seen, in the US, and other places, to be largely “feminine” to express oneself, and there is still a morbid (private) fear, in this country at least, to be considered feminine, or unmanly, in any regard, with young men. So ballet will probably always suffer due to the few boys who manage to find their way into it. It is no less athletic for girls, but in ballet, boys can excel more obviously in many areas where other boys, outside of ballet, just do not and cannot ever hope to reap the benefits from. So in one sense, I see a practicality of noting that ballet is the most athletic, and totally physically demanding of any physical activity they can do, in a sense. Only to encourage boys to try it because there are a lot of really bad male dancers out there, and people are always saying they are “really good” and they are not, and I think this leads to resentment by some females, who are, much better, really, and have to work much harder to get noticed. They have to be perfect, but a boy can definitely “have a career” if he is mediocre. A girl has to be beyond perfect.
In my time, or slightly before it, one dancer, Jaques D’Amboise, made the attempt, and temporarily succeeded, in making ballet a course option in New York City public schools, but that was not successful, unfortunately. He started a foundation, however, to educate inner-city (and all) children and their parents, the public, and everyone else, about how positively dance had helped him off the streets, gave him options to pursue a career in ballet, and the theatre, and how he learned to dance. He has tried, chiefly, all of his life, to share that information and knowledge about dance, and he has been somewhat successful in spreading the word, but mostly he has been successful at providing an afterschool environment that gives children the chance to try dance and to see if they like it. That’s all you can do. If they are successful, he helps them pursue it further. Lost momentum. NO. It was the beginning of change, which takes time. He is correct in all that he says about dance, and for this reason, if no other, dance should be available to study to anyone who wants to pursue it, free of charge, just like sports in most schools, but it is not.
In most countries, there is the respect for ballet that there is in Russia, and not just ballet, but arts. There is great funding to the arts in other countries, but as in so many other ways, we are behind in many of these areas. They are just more cultured and differently structured. Most foreign countries at were once aristocratic political systems. As such, the monarchies investiture in the arts, or their countries people, was to educate and make available to them entertainment, education and culture that otherwise they would not have the ability to underwrite-in fact his was one of the very large platforms of government, besides, security. It is a matter now of patriotism and history, especially as it relates to countries which had a formidable part in the creation or perpetuation of ballet. it is part of their iconoclasty-they cannot give it up, or be seen to, as people then say, “Why do we continue to have a monarchy?” And there is also a gradual uncovering of that, or change, such as in Russia, where the ballet has increasingly, or at least more purposefully, taken the backing of the highest bidder. But as a result of it having being made available to everyone, at least in the past, or the effort to continue its conference, everyone there at least understands its importance, artistic significance, or has some underlying understanding of it and accepts it, etc…and many more people pursue culture, are actually cultured, attend shows and are involved in the making of art on many different levels, not for the money, but for the art. It is seen as part of a good education, education at all and is underwritten or subsidized. It is getting increasingly harder for those countries to even afford to keep ballet companies together in this economy.
In this country, frequently, it is the private contributions which make the performance of it or viewing of it possible to people without a lot of money, and it is nearly always a political nightmare to get funding or to make new art. The states do not support artists, art or the training up of artists. I think one of the reasons we have government is to decide what is good for everyone and necessary and if art is not, then very little else matters. Art is like the hyacinth for the soul. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and philistines. How can the parents of these people know where to take their child for ballet, when in today’s culture, what they want is a cheap afterschool program for its babysitting possibilities. It does not mean that if the child is exposed to dance, somehow, that they will not become enamored with it. Most likely they would respond to some form of art, and along with humanities, reading, other forms of culture, such as the making of other kinds of art, this exposure cause us to search within ourselves for deeper feelings and emotions, answers and humanity. These are requirements for people, and in art, all of the shared commonalities of people exist. It is a higher plane of functioning, not on an intellectual level, but on an emotional and expressive one. That is why, in our country, these independently run ballet schools are so very important. All together, whether they act accordingly, they are responsible for the education of our children, edifying them about the importance of art in society and life. They do a big part of the job with no subsidies, no review boards, networks, administration, doctors, child psychologists, theatres, funding or even newspapers or promotion. With no one willing to champion them. Some of them are frauds, some of them provide healthful physical activity and a needed outlet in a community, and some of them provide a basis from which to pursue art, but we cannot make those schools Sports Authorities in an effort to create a funding tunnel, because in the history of ballet, when the technique and art suffers, the ballet loses historical importance, great artists, and attendees. People come to expect more in viewing ballet-more acrobatics, more violence, more intensity, more stimuli, and this is not art.
But most of all, you take your daughters or sons to ballet to learn character, discipline, and whether you know it or not, etiquette, respect, music, following directions, beauty, grace, strength, work ethic, survival, and working as a group. Many of the same things you learn in karate or sports, school or church, theatre or art, you learn in ballet. It is important to know why you take them, to know what they need to learn, and when, and most importantly, it is important to know whom is doing the teaching, and if you do not know that you do not really know anything at all. I have heard of more than one famous dancer who was taken to ballet to use muscles after a debilitating illness or injury, and who became devotee. A brother who accompanied sisters, a YMCA after school programmer who got the bug, the late starter, the street dancer or troubled youth, and most times the student of the little local school whom has been accepted to a top program (frequently in another country) which ought to , in itself, exhibit the problem in a nutshell. It offers something you do not find in any other place. I do not mean teamwork or competitions, or glamour. In fact, ballet is not glamorous at all, particularly, unless you consider a sweaty, calloused, haggard, starving, and beat-up artist, glamorous. I feel it is mostly a discipline, first, and an art second, and possibly a profession, and somewhat glamorous, third. In the end, no one will probably remember you and most likely you will not ever be a household name, unless you are on Instagram, or model, are self-promoting, and then you are not really a dancer, are you?
Not all dancers become artists, but all dancers become more disciplined, somewhat. I think this depends largely on the training because part of it is ballet etiquette and philosophy, part of it is physiology, and another part is perseverance, determination, hunger, hard work, reaching the sublime art of ballet and mastering that, and it continually learning, working and training. It just never stops. It is frought with injury, if you start out wrong, and just gets worse as you try to correct those things that should have been nipped in the bud, all the time with the studio turning a blind eye and just continuing to take money, pushing and over training at a very early age. It starts out as non-competitive, though in many countries, I could not say that, because there, they expect it to lead to greatness, or not. But again, they have a system and if you are accepted into it, there are reasons that you were, and according to them you have the facility for ballet, and then they provide the training. As you get older, it is much harder to get a consensus, and in some ways, to professionals, more obvious to see who is possibly talented and who is not. Competitions, in a way, make this worse.
But no matter when you come away from ballet, as an aspiring professional or not, you keep what you learned for the rest of your life, whether you continue to dance or not. You will always be a dancer. If you have been dancing for at least a few years, you are already a dancer, no matter whether you are famous or not, and more and more people pursue dance, or parts of it, for exercise, and movement, as adults and as non-dancers, than before and in some ways this is good, some ways not so good, or misleading. Perhaps this is okay if you understand what it is not, but it also takes away from the whole purpose of ballet training, if only part of the form of it is followed, or part of the technique, such as in Barre classes is done (badly), but it is not proper ballet training, is bound to cause injury through repetition, so it is ballet, but without any or all of the safeguards involved, without experienced or knowledgeable teachers, taught en masse, like gym class. That is not ballet. NOT ballet. NOT BALLET. Why not go to one of the MANY adult ballet classes offered at studios for that purpose. There is nothing wrong with barre exercises, but it is a component of other parts which are important. It is dangerous to give it credence, even a foothold in the world of a fitness craze mentality. These people will have children and will say, “I know something”-a little knowledge is sometimes very dangerous.
I do not believe that doing barre makes you a dancer and to an actual ballet dancer it is hard to separate it, explain it, impossible to rationalize, or to even acknowledge it at all because it should go against everything they have ever learned or will learn. Ballet dancers are snobs, sometimes. This is good and part of ballet, but it is also a discredit to the world of people who could be supportive of ballet and whom for that very reason sometimes, are not. Ballet should be for everyone, to a point. These types of activities also send the false message to average people, “You, too, can look like a ballet dancer, have a “ballet” body, be a part of that, do pointe, etc.,” and they are selling an image, a club, as false a claim as any claim could be, marketed as a sport, unintentionally or not, and untruthfully, that barre makes you as good as a dancer, and worse that anyone can dance, any part of dance, and that they will be accepted (eventually) into a dance class and be able to do all of the movements required. I do not have a problem with saying “they can obtain a good body,” but I do have a problem with them saying “a ballet body.” They are just exploiting the word “ballet.”
In that sense, dance training needs to be begun properly, with the correct outlook and perspective. This is really true no matter the age it is started. Often students who have “danced” for many years find they are not right for ballet or not accepted into a serious ballet training environment or company. This happens for a few reasons. 1) The training for ballet has not been correct or prolonged 2) Other training has taken place which you cannot easily get rid of the effects or muscle memory of, without great effort, and 3) great effort is required for serious study of ballet, focus, observations and correction, over time, 4) Enough money is not available, and 5) Companies have many dancers applying and they can only take one, or a few. But, with that goal in mind, if that is the plan, private or not, it cannot be accomplished any other way than as above stated, for only then will you even be in the running, and very few people will succeed among the very best. Only a literal few have come from other backgrounds entirely and been successful in ballet. In that sense, alone, it is viewed as an art. If you cannot get past the guardians-you cannot get past them. So, what, at a local school, or primary school do you need to look for so as not to further reduce your chances? Good teachers and guardians, or choreographers.
End of Part 1
if you can’t dance well.
Just get up and dance.
Great dancers are not great
because of their technique,
they are great because of
I want to do so many things and I have so many ideas, still at my age, if anything, I have more-they are undone. I want to do big, great things. It is like when you watch a movie and some part of it takes you away somewhere else, and you watch that movie to go to that place, as a form of escapism-I don’t always watch movies over and over-but a few I do-then one day, you have watched it so much, and you know exactly at what part you reach that nirvana, and it is over too soon, too fleeting, and you suddenly realize that it is not real. It is not your life, you are not the one getting away, and you need to do something like that, but you need to do it. Not watch it.
I switch from books to media, to music, to puzzles, to writing, to doing, but I always have to do so much to keep my mind sharp, that I do not really just put everything down and do things. For one reason, when you get out of school, you have to work-you do not get to read as many books, write as much, or make art as much, because you have to work. The period in which you are expected to do something, or show you can do something so that you will be picked to do more somethings is very short in school, and if you view life as having to be decided upon before you mature, then not only is their more chance for you to change your mind about what you really wanted to do, or find out what that is, but also it decreases the number of people educated enough to do anything important. In other words, more education is better.
It takes years of practice to do anything really, really well. Short of perverse genius, some people who are picked to do things based on childish endeavors continue to produce nothing of consequence, whereas, someone who might not have had time to develop into greatness doesn’t get the chance. Other times it is the person who is pinched (Nureyev, Makarova) that has the drive and ambition to make it and be better than anyone else. I do not think there should be an imaginary window or so much pressure to be picked to be someone’s muse at an early age. A dancer develops into an artist or they don’t, but it takes TIME. I think the lack of truly great artists has a lot to do with the pressure on young students to get somewhere, and be something, before they have had time to develop into anything, leaving them feeling flattened if they don’t do something quick. Yes, this happens to so many people, and I think it retards or stops people from studying dance for longer. “If I haven’t become this by such and such a day,” is nonsense. Surely, people do, but becoming great with all the opportunity in the world, all the gifts and all the right teaching, doesn’t happen often, and if it does at all, it is through years of continuing to develop, actually. I do not think greatness can be measured in ones so young or that it should be expected of them. And one thing all great dancers do have in common is that they don’t quit!
I told my friend today, again, “the sky’s the limit!” It should be and you choose your words very carefully with children to encourage all of them to do their best, and no child should be out of the running. Some of us are very conscious of that, as educators, and parents ARE educators, but somehow, some educators (teachers) even parents, are not. An elitist program can be a problem, but there are dancers who now currently have more talent, but one day, many other dancers will “catch up.” I am for more opportunities for all dancers to do that, one way or the other. I think if more money was spent by parents, and other people with money, on improving children’s chances of learning to dance, get them off the street, out of their cafe lifestyles and into a path of discipline and increased self-esteem, respect for the arts, there would be more and better dancers, opportunities for those who are professionals looking for work, and more tickets bought by ballet aficionados to ballet performances because they would not be adverse to going. An example is my son, age 27, who will sit through a ballet performance because he took class for a few months and respects the hard work. Everyone in ballet takes something away from it, whether they are a new parent helping for the first time at a backstage show, or an usher who gets to watch all the performances, or a cinematographer who is rapt by the precision, sweat and myriad imagery to capture and relate. Everyone is pleasantly surprised by ballet and dance. Surprised to find they like it.
Despite efforts of people to make art with ballet, preserve the integrity and meaning of its movements, teaching, choreography, costumes, in different periods of history, ballet breaks down. Like a car on the road it needs a tow, a repair, maybe a rehaul, to bring it back onto the road and getting the attention or use it deserves. There are constant discussions about ballet and a legion of fans across the world and yet how many actual dance performances can you say you viewed this year in person. anything done for or in the field of ballet, requires notation, the libretto, the photos, the video, the distribution, everything, because it is an art of the moment. Dance. But in order to expose yourself to art, you can walk out on any Thursday night in most beach towns and get a glimpse of it, you can hear music, taste food, wear fashion, and reading material abounds, but dance you have to sit through and watch and go see. You have to go to the theater to do this and like a live performance of music-nothing compares. It is okay to watch it on tv, Vimeo, YouTube, in theaters on enormous screens, but it is eminently better and more exciting to sit in a seat (any seat) at the theater and watch ballet being performed live. It, after having been to the theater, will enable you to get up out of your seat and start to dance, and suddenly, watching dancers perform live, you realize it is real, and necessary and important.
One of the most important aspects of education, being an educator, is putting aside the customary snobbery that might accompany considering oneself an expert on something, vastly experienced, knowledgeable or wise and give one’s students the benefit of the doubt, equal opportunity, and chances, repeatedly to prove themselves, opportunity to improve, and practice. The bad get better, but they can also learn other things. I have learned from being able to do things, or not being able to do things is always a state of mind, frequently. The handicapped can learn from dance, the geek, the tomboy, the football player, the debutante, the delinquent. And in a supportive environment these children can be taught to dance correctly, to work hard, to see aspects of art like line, symmetry, and composition, that they would otherwise not be able to comprehend at all, through an activity that most of them can never consider boring. They also learn discipline, social graces, about music, costume, stage design, choreography, scenery, acting, and it can lead many of them to pursue careers in the arts which are supportive of the expressive movements, whether it be acting, film, tv, dance, music, etc. There is art in everyone and a need to express themselves. It is always the best part of me, and the most intimate, which I bring to a choreographed work, and to be able to compel and persuade, and enliven, invigorate, and reach people through a performing arts medium is most gratifying and rewarding. It affirms in us that we are individuals and this is a lifelong self-esteem booster. it can be what gets a fat man off the couch at age thirty when he has let himself dissipate, or a woman, in remembering what he felt like working hard and creating in dance. It can be continued throughout life, and dancers age, but they can keep right on dancing, just like pregnant women.
But in the beginning of any growth of a movement must be organization and structure, and big, BIG thinking, to get an idea off the ground. it can be deflated if enough energy is not instilled into it, or if enough belief is not created, and that makes promoting it and perpetuating it a big job, too. Lots of people have worked hard in that field and created good shows, but they have lost their momentum, believing it need to build, grow, but without resources, it can’t. It is human energy which makes all things grow, and life needs to be imbued into the substance of a thing to get the ball rolling and the energy expended to propel it in any given direction. Without the interest, dedication and true spirit of invention involved there is no momentum, no human energy. So in order to speed things up, get the ball rolling, you have to excite people. There is no point in flogging a dead horse or dealing with people who do not share your vision exactly. They will hold you back, prevent that energy from multiplying and creating the momentum necessary to catapult the vision or dream into the atmosphere and into tangible presence-reality. Without the big bang, or a ton, of life and energy, our people, environment and planet would not have been created, and it is exactly that which can be taught in the studio of a ballet class, things can happen and do, but it is not all about a defined end result, sometimes the energy happened in the process, develops, and momentum of each individual is nurtured by their teacher. A lot of little pops eventually produces a big pop and competition is essential-not negative, debasing, and judgmental competition, but life, energy and momentum, better and better and better! So it is important to stop thinking sometimes and just dance, try, and imagine what the possibilities can be for all children in dance and by each of those children themselves to be allowed to dream, because you never know where the momentum is going to come from. Diaghilev said he could not dance a bit, but he was inspired to take dance to a level the world had never before experienced it, and it was not just the dancers of the New York City Ballet that made those first shows and created that company, it was the patrons and subscribers who came to see ballet inserted between acts of vaudevillian fare, who simply learned to appreciate ballet by exposure to it, and in the same way, when you put a group of children in a room to teach them dance, kinetics occur and develop, which grows upon them and movement ensues, through which they learn to appreciate art in all its forms, and expression and communication. Simple physics really. Mass x velocity. No conservation! Does anyone want to stand in the way of the force of that collision? Keep on dancing!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Perfect little cherub mine! What was important about this year? Ooh, too much to really go into detail about completely. A thinking year, rather than a writing one. What am I thankful for? Me. I am thankful for me. I am sitting at my desk, really a makeshift bingo table, surrounded by a mound of paperwork and receipts that I have to pile through, and too soon the holiday will be over and I will have to get down to business. But right this minute as I look at the reflection of the Christmas-treeless house in my toaster (which is on my desk), I am thankful for the people in my life. I am thankful to be able to accept celebrating Christmas without the fru-fru which is associated with it, and instead of looking at the meaning, finding the meaning. I have three pine cones and just two of them are on the tree currently, but the other has not fallen far away from it as it turns out. Pine cones are usually near the pine tree, but sometimes I have found one well away from any pine tree, but I always notice a pine cone-I know what it is. It stands out. I never really understood what other parents went through when a child left home, even to go to a boarding school-same thing really. In fact I have never approved of boarding schools. Once they are gone, there is always another program, another school, another reason, until they are truly gone. Don’t want to think about that! My daughter is finally home on her winter break.
I am trying to get as much out of her as I can and it is not enough information, not enough cuddling, not enough of all that is her-like a lemon that you just cannot keep squeezing because it only has so much juice. I am waited to see if she had it in her to go back, on her own. What she would do. So many questions-NO answers, only action to keep on track, keep moving forward. Sometimes sadly, one can never go back. Only in our minds. That process of looking back is a dangerous one in a way, signalling no new action ahead.
Sometimes it would be hard for a teenager to ever think that one day, they might want to go back to those days when they were with their siblings, their parents, grandparents, pets, their friends, their first loves, their naivete and innocence, but I see it very clearly (almost) now, and rushing over the rocks and coals at 15 becomes sitting on them and looking around at 100. You want to hold everyone, every moment, every nuance, look around, enjoy the tapestry that has been your real-life, cherish those memories. Right now you are busy making those memories. Maybe it is not too wise to look back too soon, for we might get into the habit of it, slowing down, thinking before we act. BAH!!!
She came home for only about 10 days and was fully encased in a stage of adolescence which I remember well-the one where you think the worst of yourself, the best of yourself, you complain, you cheer, you whine, you laugh, you are sick with a cold and things could not seem to be good at all, now or ever, and the next minute is the best time of your life-and she left not even four months ago as my baby girl. She still is though and she wants to say so, she instead says, “Mom, stop babying me.” I do not know what to say to her. I have changed, too. Sort of. But in this particular stage of adolescence you might feel miserable and you feel as if everyone sees the changes too, but they don’t. Your body is changing, you have matured suddenly, as if you just came out of a cocoon, and you are not sure the world is trustworthy or going to let you be what you want to be more than anything no matter how hard you try. Some of the things you have banked on carrying you through, fail the test of time, and you realize you are judged on more grown-up, serious merits, like whether you can deliver, and then, later, with aplomb. Other facets of yourself you have not even discovered yet, let alone polished, and it is often difficult to see those even as they appear day by day. Sometimes you feel you have wings to fly, other days you a a grounded bird.
I remember her speech when she was little, and Barney, the cat, little tiny toys and dolls, the dress-up and dancing-there was a song she sang all the time with a little lisp-“butterfee, butterfee, fee fee aweeee!!!!” and it literally brings tears to my eyes. I am a softy and ridiculous! And now right before my very eyes, as it probably should be, she has to become a young woman-there, while I am here. I do not want to miss any of it, for my own reasons. Entitlement-need I say more? While she has been gone I have let myself go-hair tousled and put hurriedly into a clip, the same shirt for sometimes two days before I notice anything, the same old clothes, food, dinners, shoes, and sights and sounds. Sometimes I do not even look at my nails. Depression, but I have been here before, and occasionally when I do think about it, I am surprised at myself, it not being worse than it is (pat pat pat), and just feeling sorry for myself and enjoying it-and that is okay-to a point. But my job isn’t really done yet, is it? I did say I was an artist, and crazy, for lack of funds does not make me an “eccentric.” It is though I am in mourning or just want to be-now if I could put that to good use. I want to be happy for her, want to encourage her, but a selfish little part of me just stands there stubbornly wanting her to melt down, admit she was wrong and needs me by her side. Quit. I am kidding myself. I find I don’t really want her to do that after all, so it becomes selfish again, and I realize that to be there for her, I have to be there for myself. Like myself, if I truly want her to succeed. The truth is she didn’t even notice. Maybe I was too officious, too smothering, too coddling, too close. Maybe she just knows I love her and feels basically secure !!!! I am sure that is it actually.
I think her mind was on more practical matters. She didn’t even admit to herself she missed us until well into the Fall semester, and then, she said, one day she just realized that she did. She missed her teachers, and me and her brothers, and her father and her cat. Even great-grandma, but she is stable and confident. So we all just miss her, really. She has moved on a little bit. But we are all part of her fabric, intrinsically. But right now, and that is the important point, is that moments should be treasured. All of them, good and bad. They all count for something later and they are all important, I think. Don’t be a would of/could of person. Do it all, if at all possible. Do everything you want to, can dream of. Don’t be shy. Open the door of opportunity.
She wanted to be here, but she didn’t want lectured or prodded or poked and she didn’t want to take ballet class! Her foot was swollen, hurt, she had calluses on the bottom of her feet which she would not let me treat, so I had to sneak lotion on them in the middle of the night (which worked wonders). Every muscle of her body hurt and she was waiting for her achilles and her knee to stop hurting (they did). Sometimes you HAVE to show them that the medicine WORKS. Proof, or they just will not cooperate….She did not last a cup of coffee in the mornings with me, to pump her for information=would not be pumped, and refused to chit-chat about what I wanted to. She was seemingly up before the crack of dawn and busy well into her day by the time the rest of us awoke. She wrote, she watched tv, she cuddled. She needed to do a million of things-nothing at all to my eyes, but little rituals to ground her, so she knew where she stood. She took what she needed from us. She brought up subjects to talk about on her own and finally I got the rhythm and the drift of her a little better. She is light years ahead of me as usual, planning, thinking, doing, busy all the time, growing. I took her to see a few friends and she was different, more mature, more confident-still sweet and nice as usual, but more ladylike. She had a far off look in her eyes sometimes. What was that???
Nothing I said to her was correct once we got past the niceties of missing one another and not having a chance to see each other for almost four months. I could say nothing right. She waved her arms and flew back onto her perch if I mentioned the wrong thing, led the conversation away from where she was willing to go, and cut me off if I persisted by flying off thusly to her sanctuary. So, I was forced to entice the little birdie with something to make her stay, keep her close as possible, and I simply gave in-my life to hers, as always, life is too short to argue. It does not have to always be my way, my answers, my questions. I just handed her the lead and said, “ok, you drive.” She is ready. At fifteen. Now I can just watch and put in a word here and there, but I do have to try to be careful what I say. It went much better after that.It was just a matter of who was to be boss, that’s all. I was content to be the neck that turns the head. But, she does have the lead and she knows it.
I told her it was all a phase, which it is, and I somehow think she already knew, but this is for her to know I knew she knew and what little advice I can give on certain subjects-to mothers/fathers or daughters.
She has decided on things, like her height is only going to be 5′ 4″, whether it gets to be taller or not, and her weight is going to be less than 115 pounds. She did really want two leotards and I got them for her. Very pretty ones on her. She bought two pairs of point shoes (not Repettoes!), and she refused everything else-choosing dental floss over the Bun Heads stock sewing kit, which she pronounced a “waste of money.” She said she didn’t think she would do the Winter Workshop at her school because she got back late, wouldn’t be cast in any good roles with those teachers, and because she needed time to work on her schoolwork, money, and she wanted to do auditions for Summer programs. Sometimes she just likes to be accepted, she doesn’t really want to go. She likes the experience, too. She prefers a one-on-one relationship with a good teacher over the three weeks of variety-it’s like a tease sometimes she thinks. Variety. She has certainly had that this year! Oh, and she was very sick when she came home. Flu, fever, tired and stayed in bed (mostly) the first few days.
Christmas Day she got a text from her aunt, whom she has been staying with. It said,”Please call your cousin today and wish her Merry Christmas or something. She is expecting you to.” She slept. Then, about 5pm another text read,” Don’t bother now, she is in bed. I am extremely disappointed in you.” This missive put her into a nearly hysterical spin, and tears, and she said she thought it was entirely thoughtless, cruel even and typically inconsiderate of the fact that she was sick, at home with her family, and apparently she felt safe in her cubbyhole, resenting the interference, the fact that even here, they could get to her. Even now. It almost resulted in her not being asked back and all that implies, but she took control of the situation after vetting and it worked out quite well, thankfully. I think she even missed them a little bit and they her. But she needed a place to go, to be alone, be with those who she felt really loved her and just be alone. Of course she wants us all there. She wanted someone entirely on her side. Me. She said so. What choice did I have????That she wasn’t a full-time politician? Just to be left alone-pretend they didn’t exist for TEN DAYS!!!!. Well…. yes, and no, I thought. It would only take her 10 minutes to make her “political” phone calls and be done with it. But that wasn’t the point, was it? By watching I was learning. No where to go and be alone. Important. But they in turn, are doing her a HUGE favor, taking responsibility for her, and I am grateful, even if she is not (thoughtfully) so.
She is no saint, but she is my baby. She did not have time to win them over, make them a priority and she was realizing that she could not make everything okay, make everyone like her the way she wanted to be liked-she didn’t have time, and even if she did, there were probably one hundred things she would do first, and she doesn’t care if everyone likes her.
I realize they will all take those values with them everywhere they go, that I must have done something right because they really are all terrific people, not just kids anymore. They are not dullards. Some adults or will be soon, and I have to shift gears. But I am not a sports car and I do not hit 60 in under 3 seconds anymore-or maybe I can. Maybe I can hit 60 if I give myself a chance. Maybe I just thought I was a sports car all along-it’s all perspective. Maybe this is the time for me to think of me and I am getting a window of opportunity of my own.
My daughter was having these little fits all over the place and when I told her that she could just be herself, a brat, and do all the things she could not do at her aunt and uncle’s, she just seemed to relax. She didn’t want to talk about ballet, school, nothing that I wanted to hear about-she said she had told me already. She really had, I just wanted to hear it all again. She is 15. 15, and needed to come home and let down for a little bit. Now my mother would have known that-gotten that, much more quickly than I did, or maybe not. Maybe I just don’t think I am a sports car. I might even be more like a toyota-low maintenance, but just goes, even without the oil changes. I am not a car at all! But sometimes I feel like one.
We should all be able to let our hair down at home, be who we are. It is very hard living somewhere else, under a different set of house rules, and surely everyone else to us seems more crazy than we are-there is that. Our normalcy- and it goes to who we really are, where we come from and all that. If we can laugh at it, have some good times, make some friends, take a joke, tell a joke. It’s all part of a topical patois that infects everyone. You can’t help looking around at everyone else, comparing yourselves…. She has had no one to nurture her, kiss her booboos, stretch her, nag her, and encourage her. There is jealousy at home and there, everywhere and she is tough. Support her, even minimally, and she does very well. Quite well. She has been doing it all herself and she is proving quite capable. She can’t be different, but hopefully she won’t read this yet and by the time she does, she will be. That is just the way it is, a little bit of this, of that, all goes into the melting pot, and out comes: “VOILA!” an independent person.
She came home a little lost, messy, tomboyish, rough on the edges and very tired (and sick), but she left like the queen! New coif, shoes, new boots, health and beauty supplies, shmancy leos, new point shoes and a proper wool coat. We broke the suitcase! So she had to take two of mine-and a new bookbag, so that weight can be distributed more evenly (in the future). It seems the next step is to give her a little more control over her own schedule, life and priorities. Help her help herself even further. If only I had a volunteer-but no one takes the place of a mother, really.
She went back in good condition, feeling that the thorough rest to her muscles (completely) would put her in good stead once classes started back. People were truly disappointed she did not come to class. No doubt anxious to compare themselves to her. Yet, that is not a bad thing. She just would not be budged and then it was also the money. She needed things. Considering the abilities of all the other dancers she sees everyday, their experience with performance, the requirements of learning new technique, a new mode of thinking, new teachers, new expectations, especially of learning and performing contemporary ballet, partnering, new choreography, and a totally new environment all around, as well as the continued conditioning and strengthening to improve upon the particular attributes and physical qualities of a classical ballet dancer which she deeply aspires to have down pat, and which she does not see in herself (all of the time), she is doing pretty well, well enough to go back for another semester! I think that in itself is incredible! Back into the ring! It is my daughter I am speaking of and not someone else-I need to remember sometimes who she is after all and there is nothing to indicate she would be someone else even after four months. She is a trooper.She is a true fighter. Ahem.
So to round off the old year, I bring a new concept to my blog-the ballet haiku! More haiku should be written about ballet. I am going to get busy, but it is hard to write a meaningful haiku……
Once there was a baby
her arm was broken at birth
she has made progress!
Technically-this is correct haiku form, but prettier as
Once a baby angel fell from the sky
and in her fall her wing was broken
now she flies!
Amsterdam Ballet and New York Ballet Theatre on verge of closing, read on…