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Ann

Calling dancers by their first names

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Ever since I started going to the ballet, I've been referring to dancers by their first names or even nicknames. This is true even of the most exalted stars -- Rudy, Misha, Natasha, Suzanne. I'm by no means alone in this practice. NYCB fans talk of Kyra, Darci, Monique, Wendy, Jock, Damian, Maria. That last one threw me the first time I heard it applied to Kowroski, because I'd gone through a couple of earlier Marias.

I remember once reading something to the effect that ballet could not be taken seriously until dancers were called by their surnames, the way opera singers are -- Callas, Tebaldi, Pavarotti, Domingo. In the past, dancers were referred to that way too -- la Camargo, la Taglioni, Nijinsky, Pavlova.

I chose Farrell Fan as my balletalert name because of the alliteration and because Suzanne's Fan sounds like a prop. But to me she remains Suzanne. What do you make of this practice of referring to dancers by their first names? Presumptuousness? Self-aggrandisement? Childishness? Any idea why we do it?

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I'm very used to it, and I catch myself doing it all the time, but it embarrasses me - unless I know the dancer personally (though on occasion I do), why am I using his or her first name?

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Its sorta the other way round for me. When I started watching ballet (Royal Ballet) I took my cue from reviews and referred to everyone by their last names (on the net). I also thought they were more recognizable and of course harder to mix up (harder to spell too!). But when I started to get to know some other ballet fans and talk to them face-to-face it felt really inappropriate - too impersonal and too cold, especially since everyone else was using their first names. So I'm unwinding myself of this habit.

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Well, usually I'm more likely to use last names (especially to avoid confusions- would "Elisabeth" stand for Platel or Maurin?). Using only first names for people I don't know personally would be a bit disturbing for me. Also, I must say that it's a bit confusing to read on this board some posts reviewing performances or rehearsals using first names only, when one is not very familiar with a company it takes some time to remember who is who...

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I think it has to do with the personal feelings engendered when you watch a dancer perform many times. After all, it's live theater, you're both there in the "room" at the same time. When you watch a dancer over a period of time and follow their development, you come to think that you know them. I've noticed that I tend to refer to dancers I've never seen by their last names—Tallchief, Beriosova, Lopatkina.

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Perhaps it was the way I was raised (I still feel taken aback when people I don't know refer to me by my first name), but I feel it is overly familiar to call dancers who I don't know by their first names. It seems like claiming an unwarranted familiarity.

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It isn't just ballet. You see it in sport, too, and although it happens with both sexes the practice seems to be slightly more common when referring to women than men. Sometimes it's an efficient way of distinguishing between siblings, so you refer to Venus and Serena rather than to Williams. I find myself doing it, although I try to avoid it because it's an assertion of false intimacy peculiar to fandom and where women are concerned there can be a wee bit of condescension involved, which, I suspect, is why Ella Fitzgerald tended to bristle at the too-familiar "Ella" -- that's Miss Fitzgerald to you, buddy. With certain pop figures, it's almost customary -- I've read articles on The Beatles, in perfectly serious publications, that referred to them throughout by their first names. I think it's fundamentally harmless, unless fan enthusiasm goes over the edge into actual obsession --there's a connection, albeit a very distant one, between referring to Lennon as John, thinking you know John, and finally going over the edge and being convinced you are John and need to get rid of the false one, the one with his picture in the papers.

Of course, it can also be a form of honorific, the way Elvis is, well, Elvis. For opera fans, at least some, there's only one Maria, and only one Renata (forget about it, Mme. Scotto).

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Originally posted by Estelle

Well, usually I'm more likely to use last names (especially to avoid confusions- would "Elisabeth" stand for Platel or Maurin?). Using only first names for people I don't know personally would be a bit disturbing for me. Also, I must say that it's a bit confusing to read on this board some posts reviewing performances or rehearsals using first names only, when one is not very familiar with a company it takes some time to remember who is who...

Yes. :) Me, too, Estelle.

Partly because it isn't sport or rock and roll, and mostly because like several others I think it's rude to call people I don't know by their first names. Or to refer to dancers I do know by first name by their first name when speaking to people who don't know them by their first name.

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Farrell Fan---it's everything you said it was---"Presumptuous, self-aggrandisement, childishness". I ran into something similar while teaching on the high school level. Most teachers called the boys by their last names---"Smith!", "Jones", and the girls were "Jane" or "Mary". I made it a habit to say "Mary Jones" or "Tom Smith".

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It's also sometimes a dead giveaway since the first name used by the 'fan' isn't the one used by friends.:)

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I usually use last names, unless it's someone in that ballet house who's known by there first name, like with NYCB "kyra" or "darci" or "tanny" that is until another person with that name comes along!

For me it stems from sports, where in broadcast's they usually use last names, maybe b/c it's on the jersey's!

off topic, but could you imagine a radio callout of a ballet.

"and here comes Weese chaine-ing into the wings..."

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Alymer, the converse (obverse? well, other side) of what you're saying is also true: it can be a way of boasting that you're close enough to the dancer to know their special nickname. When Elyse Borne was with NYCB, for instance, a few people I knew enjoyed referring to her as "Lisa Borne," as that was apparently the name she went by offstage. (The "Borne" was necessary to distinguish her from a couple of official Lisas in the company.)

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I use the last name, but when you get down to it even that is a bit rude. So much nicer to say Ms. Makarova than Makarova; after all we're talking about artists. If someone calls me "Mooney" I bristle. (For newcomers, that IS my last name!)

Giannina

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In my thirty-five years of ballet-going, I've always heard dancers (unlike opera singers) referred to by their first names. About 15 or so years ago a well-respected writer on dance did an article entitled "Call Her Farrell." Apparently balletomanes did not listen!!

In fact, I find that when I use the last name of a dancer it's because I am either not familiar with or don't care for that person's dancing. To me then, calling a dancer by the first name is really a sign of affection and respect. Does anyone else notice which dancers they use first names and which they use last?

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I wonder if some of this is because dancers tend to call each other by their first names, so someone talking to a dancer might pick up on that, and as people are saying, you do feel like you know them somehow.

I've actually deleted first-name references from my posts in discussions here, in some cases they were of dancers I didn't know (but like others, had seen so often and had always heard them referred to by their first name) and in others, it was dancers I did know, but I felt the informality was inappropriate to the discussion. But if I'm talking among dancers, we'll use first names. It might be the difference between a written and a spoken discussion.

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I think that a lot of it may have to do with the people we meet when we first discover ballet. If I fall in with Group A, who calls dancers by their last name, and you become friendly with Group B, who uses first names, we'll both probably just naturally do what the others are doing.

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Another part of this "what to name the performer" business comes, I believe, from the times when singers, dancers, and actors were servants, and not entitled to the honorific "Miss" or Mrs.", although leading ladies in English theater tended to be styled "Mrs." on the cast list and the juveniles "Miss". If you'll remember the late, lamented Upstairs, Downstairs, the family never referred to any servant except by last name alone - "Hudson", not "Mr. Hudson" as Gordon Jackson was to his downstairs peers, and underservants who were not to be seen, like Ruby, the scullery maid, were like children. They had first names, but they were supposed to be not only not seen, but not heard.

In the same ways, opera singers and ballet dancers have inherited the titles of the servant performers, and while some few have attained "name alone" status, along with the great rabbis, I think the rest of those only called by their last names are receiving the tradition of the servant, rather than great honor. Still, first names does indeed seem overfamiliar, unless one is talking of someone one has actually met, and is on that sort of basis.

I used to go out with a nice woman who was often referred to only by last name, and I was on a first name basis with her: I called her "Divina" and she called me "stupid".;)

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GOOD QUESTION!!!--

First of all, Mel, You've made my day.... :)

I think it's really quite mysterious why we call them by their first names, it's kind of "tribal," not anything anyone of us can change....

It's LIKE SAYING "Serenade" INSTEAD OF "SERENAHHD' -- AS IN "he sang her a serenade last evening, playing on the guitar, the whole rigmarole, like it was 19th century Italy" --

Arlene Croce led a small crusade to get pople to call the ballet serenade instead of "serenahhd," and about 3 people picked it up; I tried for a few days, but I couldn't keep it up.

It's like the things teen-aged girls wear to take class-- in Suki Schorer's day, they all wore rubber baby panties over their tights, GOd knows why... now it's those cute knit shorts (at least at BBT, where the teenagers take class with the rest of us on Saturdays -- these fashions are almost impossible to go against, God alone knows why.....)

When I write for publication, I say Farrell -- but when I'm talking about her, or thinking about her, I call her Suzane -- Once at a Question and Answer session where she was the guest, i actually called her that by accident in front of everybody ("this question is for Suzanne" -- I wasn't thinking about how to present myself, I was just trying to phrase the question.... later, when she was answering someone ELSE's questino, I realizd what I'd done and was really mortified.....

Maybe it's like with Christians, who call the son of God "Jesus," and his mother "Mary" -- maybe that's how much they mean to us.....:)

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I absolutely agree with Bobbi above. Referring to a dancer by her or his first name - to me at least - implies only affectionate familiarity with that dancer's performances and her/his perceived personality. Keen opera fans usually refer to 'Kiri' or 'Placido', presumably for the same perfectly acceptable reasons.

Personally, although I have never met her in person, I can't imagine calling Sylvie Guillem 'Miss Guillem', nor Darcey Bussell 'Miss Bussell'. How stiff and strange it would seem for me to refer to either of these great dancers by anything other than their first names and I cannot imagine that either of them would take the least offence at my doing so.

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The only dancers I call by their first names are the ones I am on a first name basis with personally. That means, not very many. I also always try to give artistic directors and choreographers of a title plus name, i.e. Mr. Cunningham, Ms. Adam

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When I write officially about sports or ballet, I use full names first and then last names. But in speech or on an informal board such as this, I might go back and forth, probably out of carelessness. I might say "Farrell" the first few times when refering to Suzanne Farrell and then throw in a "Suzanne." I would never say, "Suzy" as I heard Jacjques D'Amboise call her in interviews. And I would never say to somebody, "Jenny Ringer," "Chuck Askegard," or "Ben Millepied." But some people might because A) they know them or B) it's faster to write on a board "Ben" rather than "Benjamin." And it might be easier to type Maria K. than Miss Kowroski. Usually, when I'm speaking about these dancers it is in a casual way with a close friend. However, I think most people in this thread put convincing arguments that it should not be done and I most likely will now only refer to dancers by their last names.

A bit off the ballet part of this topic, but in Russia, it considered rude even to refer to a close friend, to whom you would call by a nickname, by that nickname in front of somebody who does not have the same relationship. And people will get upset and find you rude.

And I agree with Dirac who brought up female athletes. As a sportswriter, I have noticed that journalist (and fans) will say "Steffi, Monica and Anna...etc..." But use "Sampras" not Pete, Agassi not Andre, Hewitt, not Lleyton. Sometimes I'll hear both sexes called by their first names, mostly on TV. And in our newsroom, most of us are called by our last names -- the men always, the women (which is basically me) sometimes.

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WIth respect to everybody involved in this thoughtful discussion, I feel I need to stand up for the difficulty of figuring out what it is you actually think -- and if THAT's what you're doing, I think you're entitled to use the words THAT COME TO MIND, that you actually use when you think, rather than when you speak with people who aren't your friends, or for the record, because thought happens fast, when it happens -- when it comes it's not like a flower opening, it's more like electricity........

If you're writing, you can usually go back and edit..... ANd with friends, well, if you're dishing a performance, that's what you're doing ("I thought the way she attacked those fouttes was downright gaudy"), but if you're trying to figure out WHAT you think, I think it has a "chilling effect" to have to be mindful of the respect due to he ladies and gentlemen whose dancing you're discussing.... their work creates the world we live in, and is not merely a private matter. "THe truth is no respecter of persons."

THough it's NOT cool to say you hated it (or her, or him) till you've left the theater....

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I especially like your last point, Paul. NEVER say you hated a performance when you're in the theater. Why? Because his or her mother is seated behind you. Always. :)

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How much does nationality play into this name-calling? Either the nationality of the speaker or of the one being spoken about?

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Originally posted by Mel Johnson

[if you'll remember the late, lamented Upstairs, Downstairs, the family never referred to any servant except by last name alone - "Hudson", not "Mr. Hudson" as Gordon Jackson was to his downstairs peers, and underservants who were not to be seen, like Ruby, the scullery maid, were like children. ]

Darling (how's that for a first name?), you're forgetting the cook, Mrs. Bridges. ALL cooks of that era were entitled with the honorific "Mrs.," no matter their marital state. Anyway, it was my impression that only BUTLERS had last names only. When Eddy, for instance, filled in for the ailing Hudson, a guest asked "Are you Hudson?" And using his last name for the first time, he replied, "No Sir, I am BARNES." It was quite a thrill. As for dancers, the first name thing is just a dance world custom, springing from intimacy whether true or false. The same applies in modern dance, where it extends to choreographers. As someone once wrote, "Everyone calls him Merce."

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