About Me

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summer Master Classes...

It was an exciting week at the local ballet school, with a special guest teacher who recently retired from dancing and has won many awards.  I was honored to attend some of his classes.  The classes went beyond technique or steps or exercises and I could feel artistry, something which happens too infrequently. Most of the time we are taking classes and trying to stay motivated and then when a true artist comes our way, we find ourselves inadequate and unprepared.  Really, it is up to you to make dancing what you want it to be...

So the first day this guest teacher did something really cool in center.  It was a pirouette combination, after a barre that focused on moving the head and really standing tall and using the arms and generally becoming bigger than life.  It is what makes dancing interesting, he said.  During the pirouette combination, which went something like tendu croise and derrierre and seconde and then chasse pas de bourre in efface, the teacher made us pair up with a partner and told us to look at our partner during the entire combination.  The mirror is an evil person, the teacher said, don't look at yourself in the mirror.  Yes, I thought, this is what dancing on the stage with other dancers must be like, relating to the other person.

I skipped a couple of days (master classes are expensive) and returned to the class...this time the teacher said to the class to finish the combination you are doing, not just to end it or abandon it, because people are watching.  He talked about watching a performance in Washington, D.C., where the front dancers in the corps all looked nice but the dancers in the back just slacked off and it looked terrible.  Don't think people don't see this, he said.  Every step you take somebody is watching, so you need to present yourself, your best 5th, your best port de bras, and then end the step as gracefully as you started it.

The next day he continued with moving the head with the arms and correctly using the leg muscles. I watched the teacher a lot to see how he used his body and because he was just so interesting to watch in general. In the whole class, this teacher was the best dancer of all. After this class I watched him teach the pointe class and how he said to the girls to open and close the arms when turning and, when moving the feet, to arrive through the same place.  Make your feet go in a line and arrive at the same place, no waivering.  During class, he said this, too, to be true to the positions, not to fidget at barre because this leads to fidgeting while doing pirouettes and so on.  Always do the movement with the correct execution and don't make unnecessary movements, kind of like what a horseback riding teacher once told me about economy of movement...

Finally, today, he asked, what did I tell the girls yesterday about the arms, and since I had been watching the pointe class, I knew.  In fact, one of the teachers of the school remarked to another teacher, you can learn a lot by watching.  I always enjoy watching the young girls learning how to dance...it is so charming to see them emerge into graceful dancers, something I never had as a child, since I started dance late.  I often imagine what it would have been like had I started early and if I would have ever made it...but I nevertheless take my dancing very seriously, because I enjoy it so much and it is one of the things in my life that will always be there, even when I stop.  It will always interest me.  I always read books about dance and watch dance and it will always be a part of my life, although I can't imagine not dancing.  But, for now, I will continue to learn...

So the teacher left us with the thought of using the face and making the movements "more than what you think."  Stand tall, taller, like your head is trying to touch the ceiling...when you do soutenus, I want to see your face.  Your face, turn, your face, not your bun.  Also, he corrected me during the week and told me to hold my stomach in and not to stick out my back.  There was a lot of emphasis during the week on holding the back and holding the chest up.  "I would rather have you stick out your ribs than slump," he said.  Significantly, today, he told us that when we prepare to pirouette, we need to go through our working foot when we tendu back to prepare to turn, because it is the use of the feet that makes the turn happen.  He said also not to crash down in our jumps, illustrating with his noiseless feet how we should come down from a jump.  I tried it that way and it felt so much lighter but, most of all, it really aided the movement and made it much more effective.

As for combinations and learning steps..."let's learn this," he would say when showing a combination, I got the idea that you really need to concentrate on what you are doing at all times.  He would often say during the week, if you are in the third group, I expect it to be perfect, because you saw all the other dancers do it. You know what happens when you make mistakes, he said, you must do it again until it is perfect.  No mistakes!

I really hope this teacher returns next summer and during the next year, maybe I can apply some of the things we did in class and really think about how I am dancing.  I heard him say to another teacher one day, while talking about what another teacher said...you know when you make a mistake, you know when you do it wrong...you know.  In other words, you must fix it and dance beautifully, because you love it.

These were my impressions of class this week and I will hopefully try to add more detail as I remember it. It was a lovely week and I have many memories of how I danced and what it felt like to learn how to dance beyond the steps, how to make it come alive...