Beyond the Barre

I'm starting a blog to answer a call. The call is what happened to the blazing desire to become a professional ballerina. The desire, first thwarted then satisfied in a way I could never have anticipated, is not alive in the same way. The passion for making my body dance has abated, but the love for dancers has not. And I mean dancers, not dance in general. Because what I've come to realize is that I love dancers, humans who crave dance, perhaps more than dance itself. There is something fierce and tender about dancers that moves me and makes my heart flip flop, expand to breaking point, and sometimes contract in despair.

The opportunity to work with young dancers at the start of their careers is what gives me joy. So this blog will be about them, us, about the exchanges and processes we create together. I hope this serves them and nourishes them, for I feel greatly nourished by our exchanges.

To begin with, I want to talk about ballet training beyond the barre. Of course the barre is where it all starts, but it cannot end there for many reasons. First because doing barre is not dancing, it's a preparation for dance, but many dancers get stuck there, in a fixation on perfection and perfecting technique. Second, because in fact, just using barre work to train the body is no longer enough. This  may be controversial still for some teachers. So I want to spend some time explaining why I've come to this view.

The exercises ballet dancers perform at the barre are a series of very specific movements, shapes, and coordinated sequences that form the lexicon of classical ballet choreography. They include a kinetic and verbal vocabulary requiring flexibility and strength in extreme external rotation as the impetus for every single gesture. If performed correctly, this builds a body that contains a great deal of kinetic power in the implicit coil of the spiral called turnout.

Training is all too often aesthetically driven, not anatomically nor kinaesthetically driven. This means dancers are trying to make themselves look right without reference to whether something feels right, or without a reality-based accurate view of their physiology.  Herein  lies the root of most future problems.

At the very least, training beyond the barre can inform dancers both intellectually and experientially, about their physical anatomy and how it works based on functional reality and not aesthetic ideals. Paradoxically, when the body is functioning optimally, movements are always balanced and graceful.  In other words, an optimally functioning body is beautiful.

When a dancer becomes overly preoccupied with their appearance in a mirror, breadth and depth of sensation is muted in favor of heightened visual feedback. This visual preoccupation, because its focus is so narrow, is often completely distorted, producing a negative feedback loop. Force of will used to accomplish a desired line creates tension, which interrupts freedom of movement. The result is a dancer working against themselves, which can be likened to when the immune system begins to attack the body. To be continued……

2 Responses to "Beyond the Barre"

  1. Mike Mathews says:

    You are always a source of interesting thought and knowledge. I hope you continue this discussion and the idea of training beyond the barre. Trips to view different ballet programs have led me to believe that many dancers-in-training are unable to dance effectively because they don't have the outside perspective and balanced body. Even golfers, often the epitome of constricted training, opened up to a better balanced training regimen after watching Tiger Woods chew up the field on a regular basis during his early years.

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