|The Royal Danish Ballet in Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements. Photo: Kyle Froman.|
Sometimes I like to take refuge in Back Row. Away from the clearing that is Front Row, hidden behind other dancers as if they were trees and I was the deer escaping from the limelight.. Which is futile, since our studio is neither the size of a stadium nor are there enough dancers to make a dense forest! Besides that, our teacher has 20/20 vision that does extend beyond the front row - so there really is no place to hide. Do not get me wrong, it´s not like I dont want be in class right there and then - but when Front Row starts to feel like front line - that´s when I need to step back.
Last Thursday was one of those days. I was on my 2nd day of sleep-deprived dancing and achy from Wednesday´s two technique classes, one of which I did entirely on pointe. My feet felt like they had been stuffed into lead-lined slippers, and my center was somewhere offstage along with my confidence. It was the third class with the same adagio exercise, combining jambe sur la barre: standing in croisé toward barre, developpé devant onto barre, cambré forward and back. Leg up and off. Developpé front into plié, then quarter of grande ronde de jambe - straighten plié leg at the same time - and only then take hold of foot for the talon a la main stretch. The difficult part is that the leg has to be high enough, so you can grab it without a lasso. I can just about manage it on my left side (yay), but with my right leg it´s Catch Me If You Can, and I can´t. For the past two lessons my teacher Gabriella has kindly been coming to my aide, lifting and holding my leg up at the crucial moment. This time it´s strike three and you´re out. And me having another extensional crisis.
In center, we repeat our beautiful adagio exercise. I have an actual Moment when we plié from 1st arabesque into attitude, then promenade en dehors. Our teacher tells us to linger in the plié, really going down, and I do feel the difference - and then get to bask in the praise! However, at this point I´m dancing on fumes alone and when my balances start to wobble, I know I´m heading for trouble. Muscles start to tense up and I get nervous, which turns my pirouettes into half-assed attempts. It does not help that we are practicing our turns a la seconde - not exactly the easiest pirouette in the curriculum! When our teacher gives general corrections after the second group has completed the exercise, I sneak to the back of the class.
We do not have fixed places in this class. There are no best-girl barre-leaders, instead it´s each to her own. When we move to the center there is never an elbow-pushing rush to get to the front. Usually it´s the same girls, but anyone who wants to can step up and dance in the first row. Having said that, our teacher often takes care that not all of the most advanced girls are in the same group. Sometimes she rotates lines and when we move across the floor she divides the girls so that the less experienced dancers get some additional support.
|The Australian Ballet, Swan Lake. Photo: Jim McFarlane|
Usually I like to be in First Row, front line territory. For one, I can see better (I´m nearsighted but don´t wear contacts). Secondly, I have to pay extra attention as there is no one to copy from. Finally, Front Row gives me an adrenaline boost. It´s like the rehearsal before dress rehearsal - you want to get it right and make a good impression.
Other times it´s The Back Row that rescues my class. I often join the second group to get more practice, and on good days I´ve done most of my triples when I´ve been practically out of sight. I´m also less shy to dance big and full out (and then repeat it in the front). This time, however, I fall back to give myself a break before the rest of class turns into a stumbling disaster. Or so I think. When we are ready to begin again, our teacher is already on the look-out for me. "Johanna, where are you?" Me, in the back, holding arm up. Teacher: "Come to the front." Resistance is futile so I pull myself together and try again.
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
- Samuel Beckett
Turns out, my teacher kind of rescued me from myself. Again. Even though I was moving to the back to recharge and calm down, this has too often been the beginning of the end, as in giving up on myself altogether. On a bad day Back Row is where I go to feel a little sorry for myself and disappear. That rarely happens anymore, but the association of being lost is still there. My teacher giving me the proverbial kick in the butt was just the psycho boost I needed, refueling my tired body and pushing me to not give up. The remainder of class is as good as tired me can get. Which is not so bad! In grand allegro I add the beat to the balloné before my teacher has a chance to tell us, earning myself praise. I even feel frisky enough to add another beat on the temps levé arabesque. Class finishes on a high and with break-neck-speed piqué turns. What a buzz!
Front row or middle row or back row - whatever works for you. You can dance as if no one is watching, if that helps at all. But don´t dance as if it does not matter. You gotta own your row, baby!