Friday, September 18, 2015

Getting to the pointe.

In this post co-written by SLMDances Apprentice Kailey McCrudden and myself, we reflect on recent questions we're asking in our rehearsal process for our upcoming production of BodyBusiness.
Sometimes words are complicated.

Enroll your child in ballet! They will learn proper technique, and how to express themselves through movement!

What is proper? Does this insinuate that there are techniques which are universally improper as well?

And what kind of technique are we talking about? You immediately pictured a prima ballerina didn't you...

How to express themselves through movement... Because there is obviously a right way to do so. Unless your child is naturally moving from a turned out position with held arms and high leg extensions, they are doing it wrong.

But hey, maybe we're just overthinking things...

In SLMDances' most recent rehearsals we have been unpacking the complicated relationship of ballet to our own bodies, minds, and souls.

Feelings of insecurity. Poor body image. Being the only black person in a "white" space. Pressure to be "correct." Being neglected. Glorification of pain. Being forced. Being corrected.

Physical trauma.

We've extended the conversation into the larger dance community asking dancers,

What is your relationship to ballet? 

What social constructs and systems are we buying into when we uphold ballet as the standard?

What's at stake for those whose bodies and gender expressions don't fit that standard?

Sophia Fatouros offered, "Ballet is being perpetuated as a restrictive form, where children must conform to impossible and idealistic standards of form, and where girls in particular are being programmed to take orders without questioning authority."

Jessica Abejar questions, "Who is allowed to be considered a good dancer and why?... Sometimes when I see children with a lot of potential, I think 'Okay we've got to get this kid to class,' but lately I've been stopping to think, why?"

Leah King reflects, "I recently read Misty Copeland's memoir... and remembered that I was never obsessed with ballet (she was). I just love to dance. It was so liberating when I left that white, mean, exclusive world and got to actually find myself."

With ballet at the top of our (concert) dance hierarchy, our approach to dance is tied to a very specific time period, race + class of people and their world view - the court of King Louis XIV in France. It is a form that embodies many of the oppressive systems we seek to dismantle. It is a financially valued mold that many of us were never built to fit. 

Where does that leave the rest of us who dare to make a career of being movement artists? How is our livelihood impacted when the movement work we create devalues ballet aesthetics, or values it as just one amongst a broad tapestry of other forms?

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