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Hilarion

Dance and the Draft

16 posts in this topic

There's been some talk, lately, of reviving the draft in the U.S., in light of our government's increasing propensity to send lots of troops hither, thither and yon.

Apart from the relative merits for the armed services of a new draft initiative, under which there would be no deferments or exemptions, wouldn't compulsory military service have a drastic effect on dance education? I mean, all of the young men (and, maybe, young women) whose schooling and/or budding careers would be put on hold for the critical ages 18 through 20.

Mel, I know that you served in Vietnam; I assume that you enlisted, however.

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Good question. I'm sure many readers know that military service had quite an effect on British ballet. DeValois didn't try to get exceptions for the men. There were careers interrupted for six years.

Denmark still has compulsory military service, but very few dancers have served. It's easy to get injury extensions, I've been told. Volkova's advice was to get any extension you could, because eventually, as a dancer, your chances of having an injury serious enough to keep you out of service was likely. A cheery, practical way of putting it.

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However, the proposal for a return to US Selective Service hasn't even reached the initial writing stage yet. Talk is bruited about that it will involve the registration of women, and also provision for compulsory non-military national service for the physically infirm. I lived through the last draft system, but it wasn't good for me.

Actually, I was drafted, but I enlisted in the Air Force before induction time with the idea that it might be less likely to send me to the Big Muddy. WRONG!

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I've always wondered about how it worked for the French dancers. The compulsory draft has been suppressed very recently (something like two or three years ago), before that it was supposed to be compulsory for all men, but it was becoming easier and easier to be excused for it (is that what "extensions" mean?) for medical reasons, or also to make a "civil" service (in general longer). For example, many of the maths students I know managed to do a "scientific" service, e.g. teaching in military schools. Also the students could postpone it until the end of their studies most of the time. High-level sports champions could do a special military service, but I don't know about the dancers. I remember reading that Cyril Atanassof had done a "real" military service in the early 1960s, but the biographies of other dancers never mention it.

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Mel, when you returned home from 'Nam, how long did it take you to resume your dance career?

I imagine that dancers inducted into the armed services via the draft would return home with bodies fit for combat, and would have to be physically "rehabilitated" for dance. This would be especially true for women (if a putative U.S. draft were to include women).

Israel has a compulsory draft for both men and women (albeit with a religious exemption). How do Israeli dancers cope?

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Compulsory daily ballet class for all members of the uniformed services.

This would not only keep dancers in relatively rehabilitatable (if not quite performance ready) shape, but it would be a great way to discover new dancers whose talent had heretofore been untapped.

Actually, a dancing friend who had enlisted many years ago told me of conflicts in boot camp: Other soldiers did jumping jacks, while she did echappes.:D

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Remember, after basic training and technical school, if you're stationed most places, after duty hours, your time is your own. You can go into town and take class. The service really doesn't care unless what you do off-duty is illegal, immoral, or fattening. If, however, you are stationed on a military telephone transfer station on Midway Island, you may have a little difficulty there. Albatrosses generally know very little about ballet. (But they will dance with you)

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The Israel Defense Force acknowledges excellence in the arts and sport by granting a status of Excellent Sportsman/

Musician/Dancer. In the case of musicians and dancers, this status is accorded following auditions. I think that Excellent Dancers would usually be positioned in an office job and would be entitled to work half days or until 2 p.m. (Musicians would often be positioned in the Military Orchestra.) As the IDF HQ is situated a 5 minutes walk(!!) from the Bat Dor Dance Studio in central Tel Aviv and a 15 minut drive from the Bat Sheva Studios, this is a viable solution. (Saddam, don't aim for the ballet dancers..)

In my day (over ten years ago), a number of girls I knew got married 'fictitiously' (i.e. to other dancers, preferably gay) as married women aren't drafted either. [Hilarion, I can't think of many dancers who are religious enough to be exempt from service on that account.] Sadly, some female dancers aren't drafted because they are underweight (I'm not sure how thin you have to be for the IDF to declare you medically underweight).

In reality, however, over the past few years it has become comparatively easy to evade the draft. As the IDF has enough external problems, it doesn't really wish to deal with motivational problems and I believe that most draftees (certainly, female ones) can try to have a psychological or social evaluation that will determine them unfit to serve (in non p.c. language - pretending to be unstable to get out of fulfilling a civic duty). I have no idea how many dancers resort to this method.

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One of the problems the US had with conscription in its previous state was that there was a Byzantine/Baroque system of deferments and exemptions that made liars out of practically everybody. The new proposals seem to do away with these, except for the physically or mentally incapable, or those scrupulous for religious or philosophical pacifism. Instead, they call on government to provide non-military national service for such persons, in addition to adding women to the conscription rolls, so it would lower the allover call rate.

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Lets try to keep politics off this board, a few defeatists are trying to re-instate the draft to scare people. The USA is perfectly able to defend itself with an all volunteer army.

There are plenty of forums for discussing war and Peace, that is the appropriate place.

MJ

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At one time, dance and war were not incompatible. Far from it - the martial dance was an integral part of life in the field for the Roman legions.

I wonder if the Romans had choreographers? Maybe an ancient counterpart to Ballanchine produced a very, very early version of Apollon Musagete.

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There are dangers of going over into politics, but here, I think, we've stayed mostly to mechanics of any proposed program rather than agendas or even whether we like the idea or not. I have my own opinions on those topics, but I'll not bring them up here. As long as we stay to anecdotal history, we're into an acceptable part of the political aspect of conscription, but how we characterize Rep. Charles Rangel might be over the line.

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Maybe Rep. Rangel ought to sweeten the pot by also proposing a Federal dance secretariat. Cabinet-level, of course.

Mel, I nominate you to this post. The Senate will shoo you in, if it knows what's good for it.

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Originally posted by Estelle

I've always wondered about how it worked for the French dancers. The compulsory draft has been suppressed very recently (something like two or three years ago), before that it was supposed to be compulsory for all men, but it was becoming easier and easier to be excused for it (is that what "extensions" mean?) for medical reasons, or also to make a "civil" service (in general longer). For example, many of the maths students I know managed to do a "scientific" service, e.g. teaching in military schools. Also the students could postpone it until the end of their studies most of the time. High-level sports champions could do a special military service, but I don't know about the dancers. I remember reading that Cyril Atanassof had done a "real" military service in the early 1960s, but the biographies of other dancers never mention it.

One of my daughter's ballet teachers was French. He talked about his experiences during his military service: finding quiet places to do a barre, while everyone else was resting. An officer saw him doing this one day, and commented that it would be good if some of the other draftees had such focus and discipline.

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I think I'll just start easy; just make it a state-by-state requirement that dance teachers may only operate "schools" under a charter from the State Education Department, subject to examination and a declaration of minimum standards.;)

When I was in tech training in the Air Force, I used to do modified barres in my barracks room - not a lot of space available for that sort of thing. My contemporaries would come and watch. "Man, that looks like karate or something!" "Cripes, will ya look at the way he holds his arm - that's not easy - try it yourself." "Holy *&%, he could pick stuff off a mantelpiece with his toes!" And never was heard a discouraging word. Well, it was in Texas, after all.

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