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Ann

Calling dancers by their first names

38 posts in this topic

Wow, FF, you sure stirred up a hornet's nest!

I have several explanations of why dancers are so often identified by their first names.

First and foremost, dance is an art of the young. The term "baby ballerina" has become a cliche. Darci Kistler first danced a principal role at 16 (the Adagio in "Symphony in C"; I was there and I was stunned). Suzanne Farrell had to choose (according to her autobiography) between getting a high school diploma and dancing Stravinsky's "Variations for Piano and Orchestra." I suspect that most of the dancers described here are young enough to be the children (or even grandchildren) of contributors like me. Therefore, it's quite natural to address them by their first names, as we address other young people.

Furthermore, they addess each other that way, since young people are not big on ceremony. Even less formally, they refer to each other as "boys" and "girls" -- a custom familiar to anyone who has visited even one dance class or rehearsal. It's hard to refer to a "girl" as "Ms. Kowroski," no matter how mature and elegant her technique. Opera singers, by contrast, reach their peaks 10-15 years later, and may earn titles to go with their first names, like "Dame Joan" and "Dame Kiri."

Then there's the fact that many surnames are made up. Suzie Fricker (as Jacques d'Amboise first knew her) became Suzanne Farrell, Linda Merrill became Merrill Ashley -- in both cases, adopting names plucked from the phone book. To be sure, this practice has faded. In "A Chorus Line," Priscilla Lopez (her real name) announced "ethnic is in," and she has indeed enjoyed a successful career in musical theatre. But ballet remains an exotic art, whose founders took made-up names like "Nanette de Valois" or "Anthony Tudor," or "adapted names" like "Georges Balanchine" and "Jerome Robbins."

Historically speaking, the great Dance Boom of the late 1960's has also shaped the way we think and write about dancers. This was an era in which the old order was seen as dying and the new order was built on more direct, less formal relationships. Hence, everyone was on a first-name basis. We were all friends and allies in a movement to bring a unique art to a wider public, and we all used first names.

It's also worth noting that public relations malings from dance companies tend to use first names. While NYCB always refers to "Mr. Martins," the fund-raisers I have received from the Cunningham and Taylor companies always refer to "Merce" and "Paul," respectively. These companies perceive a (not unreasonable) sense of community with their donors, no matter how small.

On the other hand, critics are bound by the style guides of their publications: the NY Times, for instance, insists on the use of last names for all references after the first. I'm pleased to see dancers get the same respect as other performers in print, but in informal conversations, on the Concourse or on line, first names sound quite natural to me.

In short, FF, when you say "Maria," I know you don't mean Caligari....

P.S. A brief note on sports nicknames: I don't see the sexism others have written about. In today's broadcast of the Masters tournament, the broadcasters referred invariably to "Tiger," though there was no others Woods challenging him for the title. First-name reference is usually proof of achievement in sports: "Arnie" will always be Palmer in golf, "Yogi" will always be Berra in baseball, "Chrissie" will always be Evert in tennis.

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I don't think Dale or I meant to imply that it's a hard-and-fast rule that women are always referred to by their first names an d men never; but I do think, although there's never been a statistical analysis as far as I know, that the practice is slightly more common with women athletes and the practice can on occasion carry a whiff of condescension. (I also noticed references to "Vijay" and "Retief" yesterday while viewing the Masters this weekend, and I recall it from other broadcasts as well , and Tiger is of course Tiger, although not always. It is, as you note, usually an indicator of affection and respect as applied to men. I'm not always certain that's the case where women are concerned.)

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While we're mentioning honourific titles, does anyone remember the time when all the women in the POB were referred to in the programme as 'Mademoiselle' plus surname, except for the etoiles who instantly became 'Madame' on promotion. And at that time they were all listed in order of seniority.

It did strike me as funny though, to hear a member of staff referring (in English) to Mrs Motte and Mrs Chauvire.:)

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The most recent posts, by dirac and Aylmer, remind me that the scoreboard at Wimbledon used to refer to Billy Jean and Chrissie as Mrs. B.J. King and Mrs. C.E. Lloyd, respectively. I don't know if it's still the practice to use honorifics for the ladies, as women tennis players are still called there.

I found Morris Neighbor's comments on the youth of dancers and the dance boom of the 60s quite convincing.

One more thing, and it's the sort of thing I would ordinarily refrain from commenting on, but I feel I must uphold my franchise as Farrell Fan. In recent times, the surname of Suzi from Cincinnati has been rendered here as Flicker, and now Fricker. It's Ficker, folks: Roberta Sue Ficker.

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I'm not sure about the tennis, but I remember when The Times (the English one) referred to Dame Margot and "Mr Nureyev", which I always found quite funny. Ballet fans in London called them Margot and Rudi - at least, the ones I knew did. You hear people say "Alina" a lot now, because Cojocaru is hard to pronounce - or perhaps people would just say it anyway, as they say "Darcey".

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The use of "boys" and "girls" backstage varies also. I watched an ABT rehearsal in the 1980s where the boys were "boys" and the women were "ladies."

In Copenhagen in the 1990s, men were men (herrer) and women were women (damer). That's the way the rehearsals and classes were scheduled on the bulletin board and that's how dancers were addressed in class or rehearsal by the older dancers/coaches. (Kirsten Ralov barking out "herrer" was something to pay attention to.)

I once watched a rehearsal there where a visiting stager referred to the men as boys and they (very politiely) protested. "Well, I have to call you something!" she said. "Men" they suggested. "I know," said the lady from Venezuela. "I'll call you muchachos." And she did. (The men gave up at that point.)

I've been told that Russians think they're men and women rather than boys and girls, too, but I don't know that of my own knowledge -- I'd be curious about the French backstage customs.

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I've been told that Alicia Markova requested that she be addressed as Dame Alicia and not Madame Markova because, "It's what the Queen wants".

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Oh, Glebb, that is priceless. Thank you for posting that! (One never knew that the Queen got involved in the more mundane matters of ballet etiquette. Busy Queen.)

I forgot to comment on the youth movement aspect that Morris Neighbor mentioned. I think that's certainly true for the 1960s and currently ballet companies are very young -- 30 is now considered old (it was 35 in the late 1970s, and people were complaining that the cut off should be 40, some, 45). But this hasn't always been true either. The Ballets Russes had lots of older dancers -- i.e., 30-year-olds. The grand old companies (the two Russian companies, Paris and Copenhagen) had average ages in the 30s, and it's interesting to see photos from the 1940s and 1950s, because you'll see the teenagers try to look as mature as possible while today, of course, you often see 30 year olds trying to look 16.

The Baby Ballerinas were exceptions -- that's why they got that name. I think there have always been exceptional young talents (think of the Romantic ballerinas who were stars at 15 and 16), but the average age of the corps is lower now.

Back to Glebb's comment, I remember seeing Fonteyn on a talk show once and the interviewer asked whether he should call her Dame Margot or Mrs. Arias or what and she said, "Oh, no. Miss Fonteyn is quite all right." I guess the Queen was busy that day.

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Just a note about Farrell Fan's reference to the All England Tennis Championships. As a visit to www.wimbledon.org will show, women are still referred to as "Miss" or Mrs." For instance, the two-time defending champion is "Miss V.E.S. Williams." Chrissie is "Mrs. J.A. Lloyd." Evonne is "Mrs. R.A. Cawley." And Billie Jean is "Mrs. L.W. King."

No wonder so many tennis lesbians have gone public: they want their own names on the scoreboard! I still have vivid memories of a Chris-and-Martina final in which the coolly Brit referee consistently mispronounced the Czech's name. Somewhere in the second set, Martina lost her cool, stormed the chair, and shrieked NAH-VRAH-TEE-LOH-VAH three times, adding (in English), "I won this championship last year. You should bloody well know my name!" Brava, as we say at the opera....

The US Open, on the other hand, uses only last names for both men and women, unless distinctions (as between "V. Williams" and "S. Williams")are essential.

P.S. Sorry about misspelling Suzanne's family name. I grew up in the WASP suburbs of Cincinnati, where "Thompson" was a spelling challenge.

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Alymer, your post reminded me that ABT used to identify its corps in its printed programs as "Misses Bustillo, Cordell, Goldman, Hamel," and "Mssrs. Bager, Cordial, Hook," etc. The company continued this practice well into the 1980s, if I remember rightly.

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Ari, sometimes it's the same in the POB printed programs: perhaps it depends on how many people dance or how many room is left on the page, but sometimes it is, say, "Emilie Cozette, Fanny Fiat" and sometimes "Melles Cozette, Fiat" (also the order is a bit complicated: usually, in the corps de ballet the dancers with the highest rank are listed first, so there are the sujets, coryphees and then quadrilles). Also, for official announcements, it's always "Mademoiselle" and never "Madame", even for married dancers.

(Oops, Alymer, I had missed your post! So it seems that the habits have changed quite a lot!

Actually it'd be interesting to still have lists by order of seniority, because there is so little available information about the non-étoiles dancers that it takes one quite a lot of time to figure out that X has been a sujet for ten years and Y has been promoted just last year...)

The tradition seems to be a bit similar at the Comédie Française: the actresses always are "Mademoiselle"... except when the "doyen" (the actor who has been a "sociétaire" for the longest time) happens to be female, as it is now (Catherine Samie), then it is "Madame". (And, as far as I know, the actors always are listed according to how long they've been to the company, not depending on their roles. I remember attending a "Hamlet" when one of the clowns was listed first, and the actor who played "Hamlet" almost was the last one on the list! :) )

I'm not sure of the habits in French companies, but seem to remember excerpts of videos with Patrice Bart where he called the corps de ballet "les filles" (girls).

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I've been told that Alicia Markova requested that she be addressed as Dame Alicia and not Madame Markova because, "It's what the Queen wants".

As far as I understand it, if you have an OBE, you are referred to with your title and your first name, not your surname, so Alicia Markova is Dame Alicia and not Dame Markova. The same with men, so Anthony Dowell is Sir Anthony and not Sir Dowell. Although if you are the wife of a Knight, you are Lady Surname and not Lady first name, if you haven't been awarded the title on your achievements. I could be mistaken but that is how I understood it.

So that is why the Queen cares about names, the etiquette is down to her!;)

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