06 December, 2010

Even Dancers Aren't Perfect

After months of rehearsing and hours upon hours spent in the studio, Nutcracker weekend finally arrived.  A Nutcracker season unlike any other I have experienced  took center stage – cold temperatures, anxious dancers, and tired parents ready to share the performances and then, wrap up this season, tie a beautiful bow, and call it done. 

It was that kind of season. 

It was the season in which everything was going beautifully until one dancer broke her leg outside the studio, a group of dancers didn’t have a part so were thrown in and given one of another group’s, and still another dancer broke her arm just days before the performances. 

It was the season of changes, adaptations, and mixing things up to make it all come together and work. 

And, for the most part, it did work. 

Children under 16 turned into professionals prepared to dance with their hearts despite being tired and cast changes. 

Given the season of imperfections that preceded these shows, or maybe because of it, the dancers might have expected more of themselves than was realistic… or they might just have expected it of others?  I am not sure what the expectations were, but people are not perfect, and these shows were performed by young people. 

By the last performance, a mistake made received condemnation and blame back stage from fellow dancers resulting in… tears. 

The idea of this is foreign to me.  I grew up with baseball – Little League baseball actually.  The kids missed balls, didn’t touch bases, and were caught day dreaming here and there throughout their seasons and careers.  The understanding was most often – they are kids; and people make mistakes.  Learn from it and shake it off as there are other games and other days.  I have watched similar behavior in team sports – The football player misses the pass; the team understands that it happens (realizing that it was not on purpose); and they shake it off. 

Perhaps the world of the performing arts is different?

Ballet seems to be about each dancer striving to perform as perfectly as possible.  It is the practiced execution of movement linked to form the sequence and then the dance.  It is the discipline of allowing these movements to tell the story. 

Striving to do one’s best – this is something I understand.  I am a little less comfortable with the idea of working for perfection as we are… people.  Perhaps we can perform perfectly at times, but more often than not, we perform our best continually correcting and changing and adapting. 

I have watched professional dancers make mistakes.  My guess is that a ballet instructor (or even a dancer) can watch a perfect performance and find that it wasn’t perfect.

However, I am not sure that this is an understood part of the process; especially to young, tired, female dancers?

And maybe this is an aspect of their training that has yet to be reached? 

The horror stories I have heard about ballet are just that – horror stories.  What happens backstage is not reflective of the beauty of the art or the music or the performance that an audience watches, often spellbound.  The tales I hear told are those of competition and a lack of sympathetic joy or compassion…similar to what I observed during the Nutcracker performances this year. 

I would like to think that the stories I have heard are the exceptions and not the standard behaviors of these artists and performers.  I would like to think that they, like their professional sport counterparts, understand that no one is intending to make mistakes or drop the ball or not perform to their highest potential every time they step on stage.  

And if it is the norm – I wonder how companies and performers would change were sympathetic joy and compassion to become a part of their training and performing culture?   




Sara said...

Interesting post, TE. I don't know enough about ballet, but it sounds like these kids had reached their limit. Perhaps the pressure of so many practices and the difficulty of the ballet moves makes this a more demanding sport/art.

However, I agree with you that maybe creative performers, like in ballet and other types of dancers, might consider taking some lessons from football and baseball about team spirit.

It would nice to think of all the dancers coming together before this big event and meeting in a "spirit huddle." I can the coach/dance instructor reminding them that no matter what happens they are TEAM and that each dancer/player must support the others, even if mistakes are made.

I can see a dancer falling and the one next to her reaching her hand down to pull her fallen teammate back up to her feet.

I think even the audience would love this:~) So, go and have a conversation with that dance instructor and tell her or him about what you learned in baseball and how dancing actually IS a team sport:~)

LesleyG said...

Interesting you write about this now. I feel like children's activities are so different now than they used to be... the pressure is unbelievable. We ARE allowed to make mistakes, and yet, kids aren't taught that as much. I hope there are enough conscientious adults around to counter the ones encouraging this behavior, but I know that's not usually the case.

This is one of my big fears about parenting, that I will be so opposed to all these "new rules" kids have, and I'll have to be the loud parent, all the time. But we have to stand up for the kids, even if it's just suggesting a new approach.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi TE .. yes - I can see it all via your description .. the stress and the added strain of new parts, new costumes, new places to be .. it does seem a little much - someone not being at all supportive at that particular time & definitely not setting an example .. of how to behave .. it's not the end of the world ..

Cheers - hope the Christmas spirit comes along & you enjoy the build up with the kids .. Hilary

Alien Ghost said...

Hi TE,

If an enviroment of stress is reaching the kids at this stage, then there is a problem with the way things are being worked out backstage. Professionalism start from a very early age, but there should be an element of fun also; a balance between doing things right and allowing for mistakes to happen as part of the trade, whatever it might be.


June_Butterfly said...

I have not been a part of that world.But I guess it is a very competetive world.They say there's no room for mistakes there.But ,they are all but humans.And humans are not perfect.

I do hope too that there is more compassion in there than what you've seen.It would be sad if there were none.

Very inspiring post.Thanks for sharing your thoughts.And thanks for taking time to drop by on mine.

BigLittleWolf said...

Very interesting observations, TE - and it is a lot to put on kids. Thinking back - because I was a dancer for 10 years, I certainly recall dancing on broken toes, dealing with blood and pain like it was nothing, and God forbid you should miss a beat in a performance.

It was all part of the drill - and those I knew in my teens who went on to study more seriously were also in for far more dramas than I went through not being considered a "serious dancer."

I do think the performing arts - the arts in general - level expectations that are extremely high. It is unfortunate when these expectations are so weighty even on our very youngest.

Aileen said...

Ahhhh, I wish this were rare. Often times aspiring professional groups can take themselves too seriously and become uber intense. The world of show business be it musical theater or classical ballet does have it's competitive edge that can sometimes black out sympathy, empathy and the human being side of things.
It looks so beautiful and effortless from the audience and that's not always the way it is behind the scenes.
I hope this experience didn't discourage you or your daughter from continuing a love of dance. It sounds like her group was rather heroic learning the new parts and coping with the injured dancers. Rehearsal and performance can be an incredibly exhausting process when you still have your school life, work life etc... alot gets sacrificed for it and it would be ideal if the dancers and the crew took a sense of joy and "teamwork" over the intensity and desire for perfection.
I do agree with you that performers can learn a great deal about teamwork from team sports.