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When dancers and former dancers attend the ballet


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On another thread, artist writes in response to posts by one of our dancer-members, dancerboy:

[ ... [thank you for bringing me back into the wonder of performance, as I've have become a little detached from ballet nowadays. your reply made me feel a sense of awe and warmth rather than the usual melancholy and jealousy; it brought me back to remembering how I used to feel when i danced.

We have many members of Ballet Talk who are dancers and former dancers. Often, as I read what they post, I am aware of insights and points of view which they bring to ballet-watching that the rest of us (who do not have stage experience) cannot possibly have.

It would be wonderful to hear from our dancers and former dancers -- those with stage experience (professional or amateur): How does your experience (or past experience) change the way you observe and feel as a member of the audience or, generally, as an observer of the ballet seen? When you read a lay person reviewing a performance, do you ever with the review had been written by a dancer? Anything in particular you'd like to say to your non-dancing compatriots on Ballet Talk?

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On another thread, artist writes in response to posts by one of our dancer-members, dancerboy:
[ ... [thank you for bringing me back into the wonder of performance, as I've have become a little detached from ballet nowadays. your reply made me feel a sense of awe and warmth rather than the usual melancholy and jealousy; it brought me back to remembering how I used to feel when i danced.

We have many members of Ballet Talk who are dancers and former dancers. Often, as I read what they post, I am aware of insights and points of view which they bring to ballet-watching that the rest of us (who do not have stage experience) cannot possibly have.

It would be wonderful to hear from our dancers and former dancers -- those with stage experience (professional or amateur): How does your experience (or past experience) change the way you observe and feel as a member of the audience or, generally, as an observer of the ballet seen? When you read a lay person reviewing a performance, do you ever with the review had been written by a dancer? Anything in particular you'd like to say to your non-dancing compatriots on Ballet Talk?

I am quoted,so I answer.My old ballet teacher told me that it is scientifically proved that dance changes the brain in some way....as soon as you learn something new,you improve or understand a new thing about dancing,you brain sets up in a different way,taking into consideration the new discovery.

Maybe yes,we see in a different way.What non-dancer friends or also my parents or anyone who doesn't practice this wonderful art tell me is that we're too critical and too fussy.This could seem a banal statement but it's not so.We are taught to look at a ballet and at a dancer in an extra precise way,we look and immediatly do a radiography,with the first eye blick,to the body of a dancer: feet,legs,proportions,beauty(why not?),to the gifts of the dancer with the second eyeblick,to the dancing and how he does every single step with the third eyeblick.It's not even a wanted action.It just comes up naturally.Sometimes it's surprising that you can see a few movements,maybe 8/8 of the piece to say if one is a good or weak dancer and understand generally how he dances.We can feel the littlest mistake or exitation....

This thing comes out also out of the stage.You stroll around the city and look at the people differently.Beauty is always the first thing.Aesthetics is fundamental for us.We look at people's beauty,not for everybody it is so,we long for beauty.We are addicted to it!Stay in front of a mirror for hours and hours in your life and then tell me if you can blame us.This doesn't have to be confused with superficiality.It's justa a different taste and a different way of looking at the world.We are just artistic in everything we do,in our personality too.Sometimes we look eccentric but we are just...particular.

Sensitivity is another thing.We have a developed and amplyfied way of feeling emotions.Without it you can't be a dancer.

Listening to music is also very different for us.Non-dancers listen to music and maybe move,maybe sing,maybe feel happy.I personally have visions in my mind.I close my eyes and see a whole world creating in front of me.Visions.Especially of choreographies.I don't have to think of any kind of step in particular.A whole ballet comes to my mind and if i try and remember it....i just can't!This is a unique peculiarity of our category.

Then our relationship towards pain chenges:many people always comlain about having pain in the back,or at a leg....we live constantly,every single minute we share our lives with the pain caused by the work you do on your body...so we start not feeling it after a while.It really makes me laugh hearing people talk about soft pain somewhere because we'd have to complain every moment of our lives.

Last topic: we live in our own world.I wake up in the morning(very early actually:() and do a piqué-arabesque towards the kitchen,a penchè to take my clothes,a pas-de-bourré towards the bathroom....stand in endehors on the subway....ehehehe.....we live our own fairytale,often contrasting with the real world,but we like it.

To answer to your question if a critic made by a dancer would be better than from a non-dancer...i'd answer maybe.Maybe yes because a dancer is more precise and understands all the world behind a ballet,knows how the steps have to be made....is more fussy;-) but maybe no because dancers are sometimes TOO fussy and not very objective in their critics...and then let me say that ballet is made for non dancers;for the common people forming the audience.An opinion has then to be coming from a normal person watching the ballet and maybe even not understanding too much about it!For technical advices and critics we have the maitres,the directors....

It's hard anyway for a dancer to explain his way of living life because what's normal for me it's out of the world for somebody else.I don't have the real prospective as don't often have the chance to compare my lifestyle with non-dancers.It would be useful to take a non-dancer and let him try a whole day as a ballet dancer and see what's weird for him!

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This is something that I always think about as a non dancer. How can a professional possibly experience the wonder that those such as myself experience at a performance? How can they not be looking intensely at technique and so forth. How can they feel the magic of the story when they have seen it or danced it a hundred times? They see more, but they see something completely different. Don't they?

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Where IS John Dewey when you really need him? :(

Everybody who goes to the ballet brings a whole different and individual set of emotional and intellectual freight with them. Dancers are just as easily knocked on our keisters by a great performance as someone who's never seen ballet before. We're just wired differently. It's funny to watch dancers in intermission. Whether they're students, current professionals or retired, they all form these tight knots, discussing with great animation, sometimes hand-marking if they get really carried away. And they don't have even to be introduced. "It takes one to know one" really holds true in the ballet world. And with the best pros, they enjoy talking shop with everybody! That's, in part, what has made the Ballet Talk boards successful. Dancers and those who know dance just talking shop together.

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How can they feel the magic of the story when they have seen it or danced it a hundred times? They see more, but they see something completely different. Don't they?

I turn into a child full of magical wonder every time I see Mr. B's Nutcracker, and I've seen it hundreds, more like thousands of times. Ditto Jewels, Serenade, Sym in C..... etc., etc. Sometimes I catch a performance to watch a special dancer or two.... Then I'm going to be focused primarily on him/her and the technique, etc., involved. Other times I just get lost in the overall beauty of the piece, watching the music come to life.

Like dining on a fine meal with great wine, one can appreciate many details while at the same time admiring the entire presentation. It doesn't have to be one or the other.

Only problem perhaps is that I'm spoiled from having worked with the greatest choreographers, and I have a low tolerance for ballets that don't rise to the same level of quality I've grown up with.

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Two or three times in my many years of NYCB attendance, I have sat next to or behind one or another former dancer who used to dance the ballerina role of the ballet being performed that night. This has had an inhibiting effect on me, and rather than concentrating on the performance and my own reactions, I have surreptitiously paid attention to the reactions of the former dancer, wondering why she chose to applaud at one point but not another, what she just whispered to her friend; whether that was a look of boredom that just shadowed her countenance, etc. I realize this is just a weakness in my character and sheds no light on this subject.

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SZ,

I am sure that professionals can feel the amazing wonder and mystery seeing an exquisite performance. I didn't mean to imply that all they do is sit there and study technique. Obviously a chef can enjoy a great meal and doesn't always sit there thinking how it was prepared. In a sense the professionals can see much more and seeing 32 fouettes whirl away I am sure they might feel something akin to closely identifying with the performer and the thrill she may be feeling up there, while I might be dazzled by the virtuosity and haven't a clue about what it must be like to pull that off.

As an architect I am not "jaded" when I experience a great building, rather I am in awe of the magnificent space and volume and texture and light and so forth. I actually enjoy being in buildings more than creating them! hahaha. I am there receiving the "message" and it feels very fine. I suppose dancers in the audience experience something similar.

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Two or three times in my many years of NYCB attendance, I have sat next to or behind one or another former dancer who used to dance the ballerina role of the ballet being performed that night. This has had an inhibiting effect on me, and rather than concentrating on the performance and my own reactions, I have surreptitiously paid attention to the reactions of the former dancer, wondering why she chose to applaud at one point but not another, what she just whispered to her friend; whether that was a look of boredom that just shadowed her countenance, etc. I realize this is just a weakness in my character and sheds no light on this subject.

FF, if that's weak character, I expect that most of us either stand accused or wish we'd had the occasion to be charged. At NYCB I once sat next to a choreographer who was about to work with one of the dancers performing that night. If I tell you what was said now, the choreographer's biographer (some day in the future having posted a small notice in the Sunday Times Book Review asking for personal recollections) won't bother taking me out to lunch. :)

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maybe what i look for is to see the special aura emanate from the dancers as to how I would feel from the music. As music is an important factor of dance I want to be able to be moved by the dancers' 'aura' just as much as I would be when I would dance the same piece.

I lost the ability to perform as I please but the passion grew stronger. So now when I attend performances that is pretty much all that matters to me - how well the dancers radiate their energy to me. I guess it's more of how much the dancers show me that they have that passion, too, and just want to perform the hell out of themselves like I do now. Maybe it's that I want to see what I feel because dancing was my only form of expression, and now that I can't do that to the extent I want I search for anything that will give me solace.

Technique does not matter to me more than artistic quality does. Can you tell a story better with footsteps or free expression?

I don't know, I guess to come into the theater with this mindset is unsuitable for any art, but inevitably I come back to having those same feelings that never got expressed.

I just want to see that passion, the yearn for dance as I know yearn.

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Maybe it's that I want to see what I feel because dancing was my only form of expression, and now that I can't do that to the extent I want I search for anything that will give me solace.

What a beautiful thing to say, and so true. When I had to stop dancing, there were years I could not see a live performance because I would just sit there and cry. Then I thought I had found a way to still dance (if not perform) through other endeavors, but they were only a substitute means to assuage that still deep need to express "my soul without using words" (to quote another.)

So what do I see in a performance? The first thing is what I feel: muscle memory. I feel each movement I see; which is one reason why I can't stand turned-in dance sculptures: they make my muscles "cringe". I also tend to analyze technique to determine HOW or WHY a dancer is DIFFERENT (not better) than another--this can also encompass artistry. Then I try to see as many dancers as I can (time and budgets permitting) perform similar choreography or roles to have am even better comparison. Of course, current dancers are also competing with my memories of past greats in performance, rehearsal, class etc.etc. And I am far more particular (and critical) of choreography than of the dancer trying to perform it. Finally, I will go to see a particular dancer because of a "synchronicity": I understand the way they move, or express themselves so deeply (technically, emotionally, artisticly), because they somehow match that latent muscle memory inside me so that I move with them, and feel with them, even though I'm seated a hundred yards away in a high balcony. In short, I can admire the technique or expression of a dancer, and analyze and enjoy lighting/sets/costumes/staging also, but there have only been a few that made my soul sing that duet without words.

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I lost the ability to perform as I please but the passion grew stronger. So now when I attend performances that is pretty much all that matters to me - how well the dancers radiate their energy to me. I guess it's more of how much the dancers show me that they have that passion, too, and just want to perform the hell out of themselves like I do now. Maybe it's that I want to see what I feel because dancing was my only form of expression, and now that I can't do that to the extent I want I search for anything that will give me solace.
Thank you, artist. This is an aspect of the question that has never occurred to me -- but which makes complete sense when you write it.
So what do I see in a performance? The first thing is what I feel: muscle memory. I feel each movement I see; which is one reason why I can't stand turned-in dance sculptures: they make my muscles "cringe". I also tend to analyze technique to determine HOW or WHY a dancer is DIFFERENT (not better) than another--this can also encompass artistry. Then I try to see as many dancers as I can (time and budgets permitting) perform similar choreography or roles to have am even better comparison.
This is something I can understand completely. Starting ballet classes a few years ago has completely changed the way I "look" and "experience" -- and it does have a lot to do with muscle memory. For example, simple changements done as a class exercise -- the need to feel the correct way to land, plie, and spring up again, keeping toes pointed downward while in the air -- are excellent practice for watching the most difficult and exciting entrechats.

I now know, in a limited way of course, what dancing (or at least the movements and combinations) feels like from the inside --even dancing at the highest level that I could never aspire to. What a gift!

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Thank you 4mrdncr and artist for sharing your feelings as you watch ballet.

Many years ago, I was seated by myself in the orchestra of the NYS Theater at Lincoln Center for a performance of ABT. Just before the lights went completely down, Rudolf Nureyev sat down next to me. I can’t tell you what ABT did that evening, but I can tell you what Nureyev was wearing!!! I tried to steal furtive glances at him to see his reactions to the performance without being too obvious….he kept an even pleasant look and left pretty much before the house lights went on. He repeated the same thing for the next act as well. I was well behaved and did not ask for an autograph, although at the end, I did say [in Russian] that I was an admirer of his. He politely thanked me and smiled at me. But I never will know what he thought of the ballet that day.

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Good topic. :sweatingbullets:

I sometimes 'dance' along in my seat while watching a ballet (nothing very big, just swinging my leg in time to the beat or kind of feeling the up and down as the dancers do a series of jumps). One of my dance teachers called this a kinesthetic reaction I think? She said that when dancers watch other dancers perform a certain place 'lights up' in their brain that does not light up in non-dancer brains.

I also relate to the comment about pain. I do not have much sympathy for people who constantly complain of pain and probably have never had as hard of a workout as an advanced ballet class is. :(

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great topic.

I see shows in two ways now, corps/demis and soloist/principle

I work in the corps so when I'm watching corps work I'm very critical. Every now and then I will catch some individuality, sometimes it disgusts me because I think its out of place and shows too much presumption on the dancers parts. Other times I think it is subtle enough to be genius. I'm lucky to work for a company that pays every dancer it puts on stage. It is a gift not to have to work with 17-19 year old trainees, that cannot be explained only experienced, sorry moms and dads out there. I'm not old enough to have experienced the previous incarnations of the ballet world. But when I go to watch regional companies where a huge number of the corps is unpaid and/or lacking in more than 2 years of professional experience it is for the most part IMO a pathetic attempt at assembling artwork in the form of a corps. I understand everyone on every side of the equation is working with what they have. Most companies cant afford to pay people to do just corps work. The decision making young/unexperienced dancers employ on stage is absolutely reflected in the end product.

That said, I'm not at all a "talented" dancer at the professional level, I'll continue to do corps work. I stand in class on some days with another male corps friend and we'll just stand there saying, "What the F, how did he do that?" We have conversations about how we cant even imagine what it feels like to do what our co-workers are doing, thats when you know what ever gift you have is limited :clapping: Its like to call what we do ballet, and then to call what they do ballet is totally misleading. So when I'm watching the principles and soloists its an entirely different story. I'm constantly amazed at the raw talent, athleticism, and fearlessness they show. I don't really hazard negative opinions on their work, it seems out of my place. Unless they are simply failing to do their job, then its obnoxious that they get every other show off.

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How can they feel the magic of the story when they have seen it or danced it a hundred times? They see more, but they see something completely different. Don't they?

It happens to me when my guard is down. The other day my friend John was doing the Prince, a total BS role in Nutcracker that no one wants. When he came out after the transformation and took Clara away to the land of the sweets I was blown away. He made something out of nothing. I probably hadn't watched watched that part in 40 or 50 shows. It got me because it came out of the place of nowhere my mind had put it in, and because he's good at what he does.

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It happens to me when my guard is down. The other day my friend John was doing the Prince, a total BS role in Nutcracker that no one wants. When he came out after the transformation and took Clara away to the land of the sweets I was blown away. He made something out of nothing. I probably hadn't watched watched that part in 40 or 50 shows. It got me because it came out of the place of nowhere my mind had put it in, and because he's good at what he does.
I added bold to part of this because it's an experience I really treasure -- when it happens. To find something new -- and then to realize it probably was there all along, but I just hadn't noticed. It's a great argument for watching multiple performances -- and for paying attention to others when you're actually dancing in a production.

Renata, that's a great story about Nureyev. I had always imagined dancers of this caliber -- and ego -- sitting there thinking: "Look at that lousy arabesque. He's sinking in his pirouette. Slob, can't you point your feet? He lands like an elephant. He turns her like an organ grinder. ... Wow! What a great time I'm having!" :angel_not:

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For a real corker, read Kschessinska's autobiography. I found her to be very nearly a cross between Mme. Dufarge sitting there with her knitting, and the Wicked Witch of the West.

"Eeeeheeheehee, no turnout at all, scrawny little thing, heeheehee, fat, how did she ever get a job, Eeeeheeheehee, stupid, can't find his way around the stage...etc."

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As a former dancer, I notice that audiences don't always realize how hard a particular step is--and what a dancer has accomplished by executing it--while they clap wildly for things that a dancer can do with relative ease/reliability (such as anything involving "the splits" or high extensions).

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As a former dancer, I notice that audiences don't always realize how hard a particular step is--and what a dancer has accomplished by executing it--while they clap wildly for things that a dancer can do with relative ease/reliability (such as anything involving "the splits" or high extensions).

I still can be surprised when someone points out how difficult a particular variation is -- usually involving speed, balance, and accuracy.

You're right, the audience loves to shout applause for the obvious big jumps, turns and extensions. It's almost as if they (we) are relieved to see something that our muscles tell us "This is hard! WE couldn't do that!."

Naturally, many dancers feel pressure to give the audience more and more of what it wants.

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