The following is guest blog by New York City Ballet soloist (and February/March 2010 cover girl) Kathryn Morgan. Stay tuned for more posts from Kathryn!
One of the most important things a dancer has to learn when joining a company is how to self-motivate. You are no longer in a school environment where teachers are constantly pushing, correcting, and guiding you. A dancer must find her own way in learning how to improve her dancing and grow as an artist. This is something every former SAB student deals with once they join the New York City Ballet. Even as apprentice you are still in a school environment, but once you become an official company member, things change. Class is no longer mandatory, you have a very different schedule, and while the ballet masters correct you, they are not there to tweak and sculpt you as a dancer.
It can be frustrating when you make the transition from being the top of the class in school to the bottom of the heap in a company. So, how do you find that inner teacher and become your own personal motivator? Everything starts in class. Every morning, I try to be as clean in class as I can. By that I mean I try to have perfect placement and not cheat on anything. Class is no longer your "performance" as it is when you are in ballet school. It is the place to work on things and build your technique. I find that the neater and cleaner I dance in class, the easier it is for me to rehearse all day long and perform so many different ballets.
Another thing I think is important is to watch yourself dance. The only way to improve is to actually see what you are doing so then you can make it better. At NYCB we have a tape room where we can go and watch the previous night's performances. Our wonderful company photographer Paul Kolnik also shoots almost every night, and so I often go to the press office to look at pictures to correct myself. A lot of people don't like to watch tapes or look at photos because then they will be too critical with themselves and get very upset. This used to be me! However, once I got past the notion that I had to be perfect every time I was onstage, I was able to go to the tape room and look at pictures and really use them as tools to improve my dancing. I can't tell you how much this has helped me. Actually seeing what I look like when I dance makes me want to work even harder to improve and strive for that unattainable perfection. I know that not everyone has access to videos or photos, but if there is any way you can see yourself dance, please do so!
Finally, when you're dancing in a company it can be hard to find ways to make each performance fresh. Fortunately at NYCB, we have such a vast repertory that we hardly ever get bored. But I must say, when you are in the corps and have to dance every single Nutcracker performance, things can start to get a bit tedious. There is nothing like doing Flowers 46 times to make you appreciate the people on Broadway! But we've found ways to keep things interesting. For instance, the girls that dance Snow come up with a different story every night. They might be bubbles, flakes in a snow globe, different jewels, kids playing in the snow, different Disney Princesses--the list goes on and on. While the steps and the look of the ballet don't change, they are able to have a completely different mindset that keeps it fun and exciting. It might sound silly, but trust me, after about 10 performances of Snow, you are looking for something new and different!
However, there is one thing that we all keep in mind, no matter what ballet we are dancing. There is always someone in the audience who is there for the first time. That someone might be a little girl who would give anything just to be on the stage. So even if it is the millionth time we have danced the ballet, it is our job to give them the performance of a lifetime. If that isn't motivating, I don't know what is!