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Calling dancers by their first names


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#31 Lolly

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Posted 18 April 2002 - 12:00 PM

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!;)

#32 Farrell Fan

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Posted 08 April 2002 - 05:42 PM

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?

#33 Farrell Fan

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Posted 15 April 2002 - 12:01 PM

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.

#34 Paul Parish

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Posted 09 April 2002 - 06:09 PM

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.....:)

#35 Paul Parish

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Posted 13 April 2002 - 08:18 AM

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....

#36 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 15 April 2002 - 02:27 AM

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.

#37 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 15 April 2002 - 09:24 PM

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.

#38 bobbi

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Posted 09 April 2002 - 03:38 PM

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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