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
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.
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
- liking diversity
For many dancers, these wonderful characteristics are carried forward for life, long after their short careers are over.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Broken All Barriers
Verging between high art and entertainment for the masses, dance has broken all barriers.
Together with her 4 sister-arts:
- music (sound)
- costume (fashion)
- scenery (environment)
- libretto (story / script)
Rudolph Benesh, inventor of Benesh Dance Notation, coined the slogan for dance: “All Art In One”.
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.
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