A Dancer's Perspective on Self Improvement

The dance profession today is almost as revered as that of a micro-surgeon. Its rising success, as an art-form and as entertainment, may be a reaction to the challenging times we live in.

We briefly examine a dancer's perspective. History shows that a surge in the popularity of dance occurs at critical times. When all evils are rather brushed under the carpet, there is plenty of reason to want to forget and dance. Where did it all begin?

History of Ballet

Ballet was brought from Italy to the French court by Catherine de' Medici during the 15th century. Later, it was performed as interludes in operas to give the singers time to change their costumes. Most classical opera scores contain one or two circa 20 minutes instrumental passages purely for ballet.

The idea of an independent dance company, with its own ballet school, occurred as late as the 1930’s when the best choreographers (Massine, Fokine), composers (Stravinsky, Delibes), and designers (Alexandre Benois, Natalia Gontcharova) were united by Russian art critic, patron, and impresario Sergei Diaghilev to launch the famous Ballets Russes.

Ballets Russes - Diaghilev

Petroushka Costume designed by Alexandre Benois
Petroushka Costume designed by Alexandre Benois

Dancing Through Troubled Times

Throughout history, the peaking popularity of dance occurs shortly after wars, like the Charleston craze during the twenties after the great war, followed by the fifties’ Rock ’n Roll scene after world war two. More recently, dance dominates popular TV dancing competitions judged by both experts and the voting public alike. Never before has dance enjoyed a global theater, a world-wide stage of ongoing self improvement as today.

The Charleston cheered up the population after the perils of world war one.
The Charleston cheered up the population after the perils of world war one.

What Is a Dancer's Perspective?

By further examining a dancer's perspective, or take on life, we can sum up the following characteristics that make a typical dancer tick:

  • self discipline
  • survival skills
  • aiming for perfection
  • playfulness
  • liking diversity
  • tolerance
  • sharing

For many dancers, these wonderful characteristics are carried forward for life, long after their short careers are over.

Self Discipline

Since early education, dancers know that without self-discipline and self improvement nothing can be achieved. For a dancer, self discipline is the call of the day. To combat the boredom of self-discipline, you must have fun with diversification. Dancers are keen to look beyond their own field and learn new things. Input from yoga (Maurice Béjart), martial arts, gymnastics, and acrobatics improve a dancer's technique and a choreographer's vocabulary of moves.

Aiming for Perfection

Michael Jackson - One of the most original and influential choreographers of all times.
Michael Jackson - One of the most original and influential choreographers of all times.

How do Dancers Survive?

With an average retirement age of around 30, a dancer's career is very short. Upon facing middle age, a dancer has to learn the dance of life all over again in a new profession. No problem, a dancer is used to working hard, to the limits of capabilities.

If smart, the dancer will use existing skills and re-train as a dance teacher, fitness trainer, yoga teacher, ballet master or choreographer. Some become hairdressers, masseurs, physical therapists etc. Dancers, always being playful children at heart, can make wonderful parents. Their theatrical experience, what with all the music, art and scenery, are an invaluable background for becoming the most stylish of home -makers.

Dancing with the Kids

 Dancers, always being playful children at heart, can make wonderful parents.
Dancers, always being playful children at heart, can make wonderful parents.

Diversity

Diversity is a dancer's best friend. Facing horrendous competition, dancers have little chance of getting a job unless they are highly skilled and also trained in several dance styles. By accepting, learning and trying out other styles and sister disciplines, a dancer becomes more complete, more usable by a choreographer.

There is such a vast pool of resources, ranging from yoga, Lindy-hop and Street Dancing, to martial arts, and gymnastics, plus several eastern dance styles, all adding to the pool of possibilities. So a dancer is used to, and welcomes diversity in all its many forms.

Yoga has influenced many choreographers.
Yoga has influenced many choreographers.

The Lindy Hop

The Lindy Hop evolved in Harlem, New York City in the 1920s and 1930s to the jazz music of that era. With its set moves open to improvisation, the Lindy Hop can be danced both partnered and solo. Its lively style comes from original black dances combined with the more structured eight-count phrases of most European dances. Lindy Hop today is one of the most popular styles of social dancing with classes, competitions and performances worldwide. What ever level you chose to participate at, it is surely one of the most socially and physically enjoyable activities for self improvement.

Lindy Hop - Harlem Congaroo Dancers

Dance Is No Longer The Cinderella of the Arts

In high art public funding circles (the Arts Council), dance still carries the nick name “The Cinderella of the Arts”. Dance companies, like poets, are at the bottom of the public art funding budget.

It may take another decade for public funding organisations to wake up to Cinderella’s three charming princes for the dance profession's self improvement: Michael Jackson, YouTube, and TV dance shows.

Elvis wriggled his sexy hips, Jerome Robins brought us West Side Story, and Michael Flatley got people tapping, but Michael Jackson, on a par with Chaplin, is one of the most original and influential choreographers of all times.

Tolerance

A few decades ago it would have been inconceivable to mix classical ballet and modern dance. They were two enemy camps like republicans and democrats – either you were crazy enough to dance on your toes, or you had some common sense. Today, ballet companies are liberated from such dogma. Ballet opened its doors to other physical languages like modern dance, yoga, martial arts, and gymnastics to name but a few. Dancers today not only tolerate, they welcome new ideas. They love to learn how to dance with more new steps, more challenging new tricks and moves. The communication and competition between various disciplines, getting rid of intolerance, became an win-win situation. It brought dance, once a poor Cinderella, to the upper echelons of culture and entertainment.

Virtuoso Street Dancers

With arms as strong as legs, street dancers have turned dance techniques upside down.
With arms as strong as legs, street dancers have turned dance techniques upside down.

Example of Mixing Disciplines

The following video is a good example of self improvement: furthering one's skills by adopting new disciplines to create a new style that has never been seen before. Not only are the dancers here masters of classical ballet, they also possess the techniques of gymnasts and acrobats. The mix is an almost supernatural medium of artistic expression pushing Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake far into the future. Watch and be surprised.

Swan Lake Turned Acrobatic

Which Is Your Favorite Dance Style

  • Classical Ballet
  • Modern Dance
  • Tap
  • Jazz
  • Street Dancing
  • Eastern Dance /Belly, Indian, etc.
  • Ballroom
  • Folk Dance
  • Salsa
  • Lindy Hop
  • Hip Hop
  • Other
See results without voting

Broken All Barriers

Verging between high art and entertainment for the masses, dance has broken all barriers.

Together with her 4 sister-arts:

  1. music (sound)
  2. costume (fashion)
  3. scenery (environment)
  4. libretto (story / script)

Rudolph Benesh, inventor of Benesh Dance Notation, coined the slogan for dance: “All Art In One”.

The "Arabesque" is the letter "E" of Ballet.
The "Arabesque" is the letter "E" of Ballet.

Sharing

Unlike in business and politics, where everything is about financial profits, "beating the competition", and applying the law of the jungle: "eat or be eaten", dancers, by necessity, have learned, since ballet school, to seek excellence within themselves, and to freely share their skills for their own gain. Growing never ceases, and teaching is just as much a part of the sharing process as learning. Dancers have a healthy competitive urge, with an emphasis on curiosity, and a desire to freely share and learn from their brothers and sisters. Through the exploration and acceptance of many new styles and different ways of moving, dancers, in all areas of the profession, have evidently gained in ardor, physical vocabulary, communication skills, virtuosity and popularity.

Live Like a Dancer

A dancer's perspective then consists of self-discipline, survival skills, aiming for perfection (but being humble enough to know that there will always be someone better), playfulness, diversity, and tolerance, plus a welcoming attitude towards change. Such positive characteristics may provide a successful win-win working model for anyone seeking self improvement.

What do you think? Tell us in a comment below.

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© 2016 JULIETTE KANDO - You may link to this article, but you may Not copy it. Copied content will be reported with a DMCA notice and will be removed.

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Comments 22 comments

Peter Grujic profile image

Peter Grujic 10 months ago from Pittsburgh

Enjoyed your article- I have found that dancers- including me when I took ballet- accept all the difficult training and cross training because of love and passion for dance. As I always say- the Arts- (especially ballet for me) - is the spice of life- what adds so much color, warmth, excitement and dimension/depth to society.


Sue Adams profile image

Sue Adams 17 months ago from Andalusia Author

Yes, that is me on the roof but not in an arabesque, it is a "cabriole".


Rangoon House profile image

Rangoon House 17 months ago from Australia

Beautiful. Is that you soaring above the roof and in the Arabesque?


savvydating profile image

savvydating 3 years ago

This article is so well-put together. I loved it! I'm a big fan of modern dance and ballet. And I know for a fact that your words about the discipline needed to dance are so very true. Anyone who chooses dance as a profession (Actually, it sometimes chooses you) has to remain very focused. However, this focus comes naturally for those born with the heart of a dancer. As you stated, it is their desire to keep learning and improving. And this thirst never goes away. For example, my son's goal would be to travel the world and take dance classes in every country. (He danced professionally for ARB & now does teaching & marketing for a dance company)

The video of the ballet was incredible. Personally, I wouldn't want to see ballet go that route. I'd just as soon see gymnastics remain gymnastics. But in China, acrobatics are incorporated into pretty much all dance forms, as far as I can tell.

Thank you for writing this beautiful piece about an art form that is finally gaining the attention it deserves. Now - if the arts could only get more funding!!


Sue Adams profile image

Sue Adams 4 years ago from Andalusia Author

Hi Marisa,

Nice to see you again. There will always be the few who, for some reason (their problem) like to put a spoke in your wheel, especially in very large, institutionalised, over-staffed, almost incestuous dance companies. But generally, once a dancer is challenged by another style, the true dancer likes to cross over, learn new moves and acknowledge differences and similarities. It is not an easy point to make, but I tried to show that it is this very attribute of diversifying and an openness to the new and the different, which has made dance such a super profession and that such qualities are worth noting and applying on a more general level. Accepting and learning from one's differences benefits all.


Sue Adams profile image

Sue Adams 4 years ago from Andalusia Author

Hi Fucsia,

Yes, body language is fascinating and we all practice it, whether we are aware of doing so or not.


Marisa Wright profile image

Marisa Wright 4 years ago from Sydney

Lovely overview of dancing. Personally I found the ballet world quite bitchy and dancers not particularly supportive of each other - but it's one of the reasons I love belly dancing in my old age, because in belly dancers, there's a healthy aspiration to do well without doing down anyone else. Refreshing, and rare these days!


fucsia profile image

fucsia 4 years ago

You Hub is a pleasurable read even for those who have never danced as professional, like me. The communication through body is an art that always fascinated me.


MelChi profile image

MelChi 4 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

Hi Sue - no, luckily not as I was only dancing in pointe shoes for a few years before I stopped Ballet and moved on to Modern Dance. I've seen dancers with bleeding feet, but didn't realize the extent of damage that is caused from pointe shoes! (And some people think Ballet is a walk in the park!) Good luck with the exercises - yoga is amazing :)


Sue Adams profile image

Sue Adams 4 years ago from Andalusia Author

Unfortunately, my feet have been damaged from the glory of dancing professionally on pointe shoes. In Yoga there is no barre to help with balance and when the toes cannot spread properly, balance is severely hindered. Yoga now teaches me to re-train my feet, to re-align the big toes back to their nature-given place, in line with the bone connecting the top arch of the foot to the big toe - you can see that bone when you flex the big toe. Simply put, the task at hand is to get rid of bunions caused by pointe shoes (or stilletos). It's not so easy but I'm getting there.

Do you have a similar problem with your feet MelChi?


MelChi profile image

MelChi 4 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

I've just started yoga and use together with meditation. It's amazing :)


Sue Adams profile image

Sue Adams 4 years ago from Andalusia Author

Yes MelChi, never stop training. As dancers, the need for perfecting our bodies is in our blood from when we were very young. I do Yoga now and still discover new things about my body every day.


MelChi profile image

MelChi 4 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

Hi Sue, you have made me miss ballet - I need to get to a class or concert asap! Such a well written hub with lots of interesting information about this beautiful form of dance. Thanks so much :)


Sue Adams profile image

Sue Adams 4 years ago from Andalusia Author

Thanks lady_E, did you know that babies can dance before they can walk?


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 4 years ago from London, UK

Very interesting. I love dancing.

One other thing I like about dancing is that youths love it and sometimes it keeps them off the streets.

I also love how kids as young as 4 or 5 start learning ballet. It affects their life in positive ways.

Cool Hub.


Cherry Trevaskis 4 years ago

"All art in one" I like that.


Sue Adams profile image

Sue Adams 4 years ago from Andalusia Author

I so glad, epigramman, that you enjoyed reading "Shall We Dance For A Better World". Your favourite artform is indeed more important than you may have thought isn't that wonderful?


epigramman profile image

epigramman 4 years ago

...well Miss Sue of Adams you are like a goddess to me and most definitely a hero for putting this hub together with your obvious enthusiasm and labor of love - I am a big big dance fan myself right down to studying people's body language and I simply adore the classical ballet having seen all of the great dancers and companies in their day - let me post this most essential dance hub to my Facebook page to my corps de ballet with a direct link back here .....lake erie time ontario canada 11:19pm and yes a mutual thumbs up to you too!


Sue Adams profile image

Sue Adams 5 years ago from Andalusia Author

Thank you Alek, nice to see you again. Keep on dancing... :)


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

I love dance and always watch good dance programs. I studied and taught Ballet for years and my youngest daughter was a member of the Austin Ballet Company. Enjoyed your blog. Thanks.


Sue Adams profile image

Sue Adams 5 years ago from Andalusia Author

Like you say, profit motive and greed is foreign to artists and dancers who survive at the mercy of agents, managers, producers, publishers and all the other rats in the arts and entertainment industry. Artists are the pure, innocent, naïve, angel-messengers in a society.

What is the name of the guy who moves like a well lubricated robot in slomo?


Madeleine Kando 5 years ago

Juliette: This is a wonderful depiction of dance and its hitory. It is a shining star amongst the burnt out stellar bodies in the black firmament of modern society. While everything else is crumbling, dance is thriving and expanding. None of the conditions apply to the world of dance that one might consider essential for success: profit motive,greed and manipulation.

On the other hand the Arts depend on the success of the rest of the economy. Starving people would rather eat than dance. It is in 'good' times that the Arts have flourished. That said, who knows what the income level is of the genius who is performing in this amazing video?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSnqItsLMrA

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    Sue Adams profile image

    Juliette Kando (Sue Adams)686 Followers
    60 Articles

    Fellow of the RAD Institute of Choreology. Books published by HarperCollins on Taking Responsibility for your Health with Body Awareness.



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