September 14, 2013

Shy Swan

This week, we have been working on this beautiful center adagio... It begins with a developpé to the front, then through first into arabesque plié, then developpé ecarté, followed by attitude promenade, into arabesque allongé. It's simple enough, though hardly easy. As if ballet is ever easy... But the real challenge comes with the port de bras. Swan arms! When my teacher demonstrated, it was as if Odette had come alive... No artifice, no cliches - but a fleeting moment of heart-stopping beauty. Feminine, fragile yet strong at the same time. Then it was our turn. "I want to see different swans... Be beautiful, make me enjoy it." At this point, [insert panic] and enter ugly duckling.

I can handle the basic second, third or fifth port de bras just fine - it's what I've been practicing since 1991. You learn the technique, and then it becomes your comfort zone. If you're a shy dancer/person like myself, it's a safe place to be. I can hide behind technique. Why? Partly, because ballet is such an unforgiving art form... A great joy to learn and to experience, but hard. Every flaw and mistake is immediately visible. Every bad day is on display for others to see. Sometimes, it feels like you're naked. But you cannot be an artist without daring to be vulnerable. Yes, I wrote "artist" - even though I'm just your average middle-aged late-starter recreational ballet dancer.

When our teacher told us to be "swans", my immediate thought was: I don't know how to be a swan, I will look silly trying to be one, which arm goes first and how did she make it look so beautiful, and what if I totally suck, and where can I hide... Lots of thoughts, even before the first move. But I gave it a try, duckling-style, and it was not so scary. Next time, Madame gave us a more detailed demonstration of the arms, and I tried to copy it as well as I could. Even though she said that the port de bras could be a little different for each of us. However, "different" means revealing yourself, showing your interpretation of the movement, your style (or lack thereof) - and I was not ready.

I'm still not 100% out there. But my confidence is growing. During the summer, I had more opportunities to "colour" my dancing, and to "play" with my port de bras - and it felt so right. After a lot of square & academic dancing, it was even liberating. Then, one of my summer teachers gave me unexpected and positive feedback, which made me very happy. I was doing my own thing (without changing the exercises of course) - and it turned out to be a good thing!

Now, it feels like everything is new again. I have a dream ballet schedule, I get to work with my favorite teacher on three days instead of one, and I have another awesome class on Sundays (with various teachers). There is still strong emphasis on clean technique, but I've been getting a lot more feedback on expressing myself. How to use my head and eyes, how to breathe into the movement, how to make it look interesting... How to dance, really. It's been an amazing experience. This duckling might yet grow into a swan.

To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...