Becoming Human

Whenever I take class, I sometimes feel like there are a million and one things going through my head: 

 

"Turn out your feet (but from the hips)"

 

"Straighten your knees"

 

"Softer port de bras"

 

"Relax your shoulders"

 

"Ribs down"

 

"Wait, not too much—stay lifted"

 

"Play with the music a little more"

 

"Turn out more"

 

"Pointe your feet"

 

"No, seriously, come on, work that turnout"

 

The amount of energy that a roomful of dancers puts into their steps could power an entire city. Every movement in ballet takes an enormous amount of concentration and care. But sometimes we put so much effort into classical positions, that we overlook some of the more ordinary parts of a ballet, namely walking. 

 

Walking like a normal human being can be one of the hardest things for a ballet dancer to master. Even some principals at ABT have a difficult time conquering pedestrian heel-toe mechanics on stage. It sounds silly, but after spending so much time in lifted, turned-out classical ballet mode, it's hard to let that go. Yet choreography—whether classical or contemporary—loses so much power when a dancer always walks like a dancer. Of course, shades, swans and fairies are not supposed to pound the pavement. There are times that ballet walks are called for. But human characters like Kitri and Siegfried look so much more real when they can alternate their classical placement with civilian steps. It can give the movement a sense of urgency, a feeling of honesty. Would Romeo really walk up to Juliet with pointed toes? The most fabulous grand jetés and pirouettes can be undercut when a dancer can't let go of his or her dancerliness when the choreography asks you to move like a normal person.

 

Walking gets overlooked all too often because it's just a throwaway, easy transition between the "real" choreography. But maybe it should be moved to the top of dancers' lists of things to think about.

Latest Posts


Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Fancy Free" (1981)

In Jerome Robbins's 1944 ballet Fancy Free, three sailors on leave spend the day at a bar, attempting to woo two young women by out-dancing and out-charming one another. In this clip from 1981, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was then both the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre and a leading performer with the company, pulls out all the stops to win the ladies' affections.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Bethany Kirby, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

An Infectious-Disease Physician on What Vaccines Mean for Ballet

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds into its second year, the toll on ballet companies—and dancers—has been steep. How long before dancers can rehearse and perform as they once did?

Like most things, the return to normal for ballet seems to hinge on vaccinations. Just over 22 percent of people in the U.S. are now vaccinated, a way from the estimated 70 to 85 percent experts believe can bring back something similar to pre-pandemic life.

But what would it mean for 100 percent of a ballet company to be vaccinated? Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini is about to find out—and hopes it brings the return of big ballets on the big stage.

"I don't think companies like ours can survive doing work for eight dancers in masks," Angelini says. "If we want to work, dance, and be in front of an audience consistently and with the large works that pay the bills, immunization is the only road that leads there."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks