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about kronstam, in a review of alexandra's recent book:

his reticence to leave Denmark may have been rooted in his own sense of vulnerability. And Tomalonis discovered it was also based in a concept called Jantelov, a Danish word that points to the reserve that permeates Danish society.  

"In four interviews in a row, Danish dancers, all 28 or 29, would ask, 'Do you know about Jantelov?' " Tomalonis says. "Then, they would tell me the ten rules in monotone: 'Do not ever think you are more than us, do not ever think you are better than us....' There's enormous resentment against anyone who is treated special."

i would be interested to hear these ten commandments, if anyone knws them? it sounds like a danish version of our australian 'tall poppy syndrome'.

here's the rest of the review, if you're interested:


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Here's the passage from my book:

There are actually ten laws, and every schoolboy can recite them: “Don’t think you are anything. Don’t think you are as much as us. Don’t think you are smarter than us. Don’t think you are better than us. Don’t think you know more than us. Don’t think you are more than us. Don’t think you’re any good. Don’t laugh at us. Don’t think anybody cares about you. Don’t think you can teach us anything.” Simply put, being special, or trying to be special in any way, violates Jantelov. The corollaries--If you were special, you wouldn’t be here; If you’re from somewhere else, you must be great; If you’re so good, why don’t you leave?--are obvious, and especially troubling to artists. Jantelov is probably as responsible as any factor in the decision of many Danish dancers to leave. But Kronstam was utterly, happily, proudly Danish, and he learned to live within Jantelov’s constraints. Being a star without acting like one, dominating a performance without upstaging anybody, working hard without seeming too eager, never claiming credit for what he had accomplished--Kronstam made dozens of such adaptations in both his professional and his private life.

It is like "tall poppy" - and, as I posted on another thread a few weeks ago, like the Japanese proverb, "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."

(BTW, Grace, the link you posted was to the story about the Paris Opera Ballet School. They may have their problems, but I don't think Jantelov is one of them :)

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It is interesting, the ways different societies invent to torture themselves :) What, I wonder, binds Australia, Denmark (and the rest of Scandinavia, actually, or at least Norway and Sweden), and Japan?

In the arts, it's especially awful, because individuality is so much a part of creativity. One story about a young ballerina that I included in the book is that after her promotion, she felt uncomfortable, embarrassed -- "Why was I chosen and not one of my colleagues?" Realizing the danger, nay, the suicidal idiocy, of generalizing about particular countries :) I pose this question: Could such a statement be made by a Russian ballerina? Or an American one?

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alexandra wrote

Could such a statement be made by a Russian ballerina? Or an American one?

i'll take the bait.

at this highly generalised level we are daring to discuss, it's hard to imagine such embarrassment/humility about promotion coming from a french, russian or american dancer (stereotypes only, being discussed here!).


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Again, though, what is the link between Australian, Japanese and Danish? Doesn't that seem like an odd Axis of Humility? :)

The attitude by the ballerina stated above is vey much in sync with the trend (it's bubbling underneath the surface, but I predict it will be the next Eruption) against hierarchies in ballet. No ballerinas. Just the ensemble. No one must be pushed forward, we are all equals.

Can this really work in dance? It's one of the problems I've always had with Kylian's ballets, many of which I think are quite enjoyable. Everyone is the same, no one is distinctive. There are ballets that are collections of stars, where everyone has his moment, but they're still stars. The New No Hierarchy isn't like that. Jantelov Ballet?

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Juliet, I don't think it's theoretical. It's a question that's being raised more and more in the dance press, especially the contemporary dance press. No hierarchies is cheaper, too. I don't think that's the primary reason; there are some who believe in it for political, or whatever, reasons -- I can't see the artistic ones, but it's a reason. Ballerinas are so much trouble.

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this subject is all new to me. but surely we risk confusing two issues - one is the uncomfortableness of rising above the crowd (or the crowds' desire to squash you back down), while the other is this new attitude which alexandra is reporting on, about the proposals to do away with heirarchies within the group of dancers in a company. does that make sense?

and alexandra - i HAVE understood your question, but i have no quick response. i can't seriously imagine that the japanese and the australians, for starters, have much in common, in their social attitudes...

and i haven't met many danes. the dance 'star' types who i met, were only meetings - brief conversations - i have mentioned them to you privately before (flemming ryberg, niels kehlet, hans brenaa, ...oh yes: and my old teacher poul gnatt). the danes i knew best were business people i worked for (not in dance - they ran a graphic arts service). he was/(is?) also the danish consul, here. they fitted right in, really, with australian attitudes - although, they have been in australia many years. i suppose they were/are conservative, but no more so than the class of australians they would socially move in.

the no-heirarchies thing - as has usually been the case in contemporary dance ensembles - IS catching on with ballet companies, i think. but i don't think it's related to jantelov/poppies/nails..

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I see the eradication of hierarchy as an expression of the same principles of Jantelov/tallpoppies/nails (JTN?) No one is "special." We're all "equal." No one can stand out. I was making the leap using the story about the reluctant young Danish ballerina I posted above. That's an example of someone being so modest/beaten down by the society she doesn't want to "push herself forward." But I think the move to eradicate differences and distinctions -- among types of art, or the arts, and among ranks of dancers -- is a manifestation of the same idea. It's more than egalitarian, whcih is "we're all equal! we're all in this together." And Jantelov, which is basicalyl, "who do you think you are?" or "don't you dare think you're better than me." Not a breeding ground for ballerinas.

I'd also say that in modern dance, I think of companies like Cunningham's, or Taylor's as a collection of soloists (they might reject the name "stars") but they're certainly individuals.

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I'm operating on way too little information here. But I think that being manic depressive would be enough to explain the reservedness, the lack of desire to travel internationally. I see this in my manic depressive friends: you find something that works for you and keeps you on an even keel, and you keep going in that groove.

I'm sure there are plenty of American ballerinas who would make a similar statement. Allegra Kent seems that way to me, both in person and in her book. The dancers I know tend to be that way as well. I think it has more to do with personality than nationality.

Maybe this is a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease: if you're not a dancer, you only hear from the loudmouths.

The attitude by the ballerina stated above is vey much in sync with the trend (it's bubbling underneath the surface, but I predict it will be the next Eruption) against hierarchies in ballet. No ballerinas. Just the ensemble. No one must be pushed forward, we are all equals.

Can this really work in dance? It's one of the problems I've always had with Kylian's ballets, many of which I think are quite enjoyable. Everyone is the same, no one is distinctive. There are ballets that are collections of stars, where everyone has his moment, but they're still stars. The New No Hierarchy isn't like that. Jantelov Ballet?

I don't think things are as dire as all that. My artistic director is very humble, and that attitude permeates the entire company, especially his best dancers. There are no ranks such as corps, soloist, principle, etc. Experienced dancers are not given license to act like an a** just because they're experienced. People help each other out as well, and interaction with audience usually downplays the "mystique" of being a dancer.

But that's not what counts on stage. On stage, you can easily identify the parts as principle, soloist and corps. The lead dancers are billed above the rest under the ballet they lead. And (no surprise here) the same dancers get the principle parts every season --- they're the ones with the most experience. Pay scales vary as well, according to experience.

Therefore, I'm a bit confused. People have pointed to my company in the past as an example of one "without hierarchy". But that's not really true, as I described above. Same with Balanchine's NYCB and its "no star" system.

Maybe this discussion is about companies that create parts based on the lowest common denominator of experience in the company? Seems like a waste to me, and not at all challenging for anyone past the first year or two.

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Actually, the company that was known for "no stars, all stars" was Joffrey, particularly when Mr. Joffrey was still alive. We used to spend a lot of time working the personnel lists so that we'd have as complete utilization of people all through any season or tour as possible. Also, they were to be represented in both leading and ensemble roles. An interesting matrix to fill. It was the audience who declared who the "stars" were. NYCB's tiered system of Principal/Soloist/Corps militates against that kind of utilization and declares de facto and de jure who's a "star"!

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There's always the suspicion that the audience declares as stars the people in the most visible roles. I'm able to test that by comparing Nutcracker reviews from year to year. You already know who's going to be mentioned beforehand based on press night casting.

However, there is some variation. A particularly strong dancer in one of the "mentionable" roles will often receive positive mention, while a weak dancer (or one who couldn't care less) in one of those roles will be ignored (or sometimes even receive a bad review). In the repertory seasons, this is most meaningful when a dancer in a soloist role is mentioned specially, rather than just the principle role.

So I suppose that the conclusion of this ramble is that the audience does declare its stars, within certain parameters already set by the choreography and casting.

It's just a fact of life in a small company that the principle dancers fill corps roles as well. Small companies just can't afford to pay one dancer more than the others and then have her just dance in one out of four ballets on a program.

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This is fascinating! I tried to find some more information on Jantelov on the internet, and there is loads. Also many "alternative Janteloven". From what I can tell (and my Danish isn't brilliant, so I could be wrong!), Jantelov is a concept invented by an author of a book written in 1933. Something to do with the attitudes of the residents of the fictitious town of Jante? If that is true, then it is a really recent thing, not something which has been passed down through the generations. It seems strange that it is something which is deeply ingrained in the culture.

I can understand why the ballerina Alexandra wrote about was embarrassed. It is about what your peers think - the dancer was thinking, "Why me?" but also she knew that all the other dancers would be thinking, "Why her?". People support each other when they are all in the same boat, but if someone is picked out, it makes waves...

I think people want stars. In England at the moment, there are loads of TV programmes on a "search for a star" theme - you see the potential singers all rehearsing and being coached, then they perform every week in front of judges and some of them are eliminated. The winner becomes famous for their five minutes. School children just want to be famous now - they don't care how, they just want to be on television! (No Jantelov here!)

Incidentally, aren't Danish, Swedish and Norwegian similar?!:)

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Just an aside here, the Navaho Indians apparently have this philosophy within their culture as well...as I was driving into NYC today, listening to NPR, I heard an interview with a film maker...tuned in just as Leonard Lopate was talking about the Japanese hammered down "nail" philosophy... so we'd better add the Navahos to the "axis of humility". Quite interesting - these similarities between different such different cultures.

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It's one reason that the Navaho were able to keep their WWII identities as cryptographic specialists - "code talkers" or "Spirit talkers", a secret that wasn't broken until the US Government began talking about it. To the Navaho, it was nothing special, just speaking Navaho. Its encryptions were of the simplest sorts, but little or nothing had been written about Navaho or other Athabascan languages pre-war, and so they could talk "in the clear" and nobody could understand them except another Navaho! Jolly clever!:)

Incidentally, Norway, Sweden and Denmark were once a United Kingdom. Their individual cultural and language differences separated them, as an example of self-determination. Not bloodless, to be sure, but something many people don't know about!

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Interesting about the Navajo -- I've always thought of Indian communities working cooperatively, and I wonder if that's the positive side of the coin, whereas Jantelov is the negative? Or I may be just looking at Navajo society (about which I have read very little :) ) through rose-colored glasses.

Lolly, Axel Sandemose wrote a novel in which a character, Jante, gave Jantelov (Jante's Law) it's name. But he didn't invent it. It's something you can trace in Danish society back to the 16th century, at least.

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I would try to turn the question upside down and instead of saying 'we're all equal' and 'you're not special'... why not say 'we're all of equal value', 'we're ALL special', 'we're all rising at the same level'...

That seems to me more appropriate in relation to dance than saying that nobody is above somebody else... If you say that EVERYONE is to aspire to do better, then, nobody is considered less well as a result. ;)

I see things differently maybe (being French?), but to me 'you're not special' is very demeaning! :)

That may be what you were talking about (this European thing going on) I think it's hard enough to motivate a child and make them feel worthwhile (they're perfectly capable, perfectly skillful, and yet, a lot think they're useless! :( )

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I agree, balletowoman. It does not sound like a concept that would help anyone be productive. I think Switzerland has something similar...but I'm pretty sure they haven't given it a name (probably because it would have to be translated into four languages). I wonder if this has anything to do with the relatively high suicide rates in Denmark, Switzerland, Japan....

In the US, we're raised to think everyone (theoretically) has an equal chance at doing everything. It's not really true, of course, but I think the idea is that everyone can make full use of his/her own talents. Unfortunately, stage parents sometimes don't see it this way, and they think their little child can be a ballerina just by going to the neighborhood school.

What about England and France? I haven't been to either country, but my French friends tell me there is more of a focus on the individual in France, while I've heard that Italy is more family-centric. How does this affect art? It's said that in pop or rock music, solo artists are more popular than groups. True?

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I'm sure every culture, or at least subculture, has a way of dealing wiith those who are "special." I've read of working-class English kids taunting those in their A-level classes as "college puddings" and in my city, teachers often worry about black kids accusing A students of "acting white." Both are ways to say "You're trying to be special, and we don't like it."

I read once of a difference between America and Brazil. In America, we'd say, "Who do you think you are?" In Brazil, they'd say, "Do you know to whom you are speaking?" It's a subtle difference, but a difference.

I think every society has Jantelov in some sense, but in Denmark it is crushing. Children are drilled not to stand out. "You made yourself look ridiculous" -- going to the front of the line, answering two questions, eager to take on extra work, etc. The emphasis is on the collective. It's a great system for the mediocre, but it's not very pleasant for others.

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In its extremes, Jamtelov is nothing but sheer unadultered evil, practised by very little people who in their tiny little brains cannot fathom the painful fact that indeed someone could actually be more clever, more beautiful or more talented than the other person. The whole concept poisons society. This said by someone from the region - I have had a few experiences myself. But with growing skill (and age) one slowly learns how to avoid it.

Actually, it boils down to envy. Myself, I cannot understand this as I can't feel envious - it is not in my mental makeup. Then, also, I think it has something to do with a general lack of warmth.:mad:

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Thank you Pamela. Though I hadn't read this thread in a long time, I'm glad I have reread it, especially now.

The process sounds like "brainwashing". Or I suppose Jantelov might be a euphemism for mental cruelty. :mad:

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Having grown up in a small New Jersey suburb during the '50s and '60s, I recognized Alexandra's description of Jantelov as a slightly -- very slightly -- exaggerated expression of the kind of social pressure to conform that pervaded my own formative years. Fit in, at all costs. If you don't fit the mold, you are a total freak. And if you don't like it, there's something wrong with you, but let's ignore that. I don't think it is unique to Denmark or even Scandinavia. I think it appears in varying degrees wherever small-town mores inform the local zeitgest.

When asked where I'm from, my usual reply is, "I'm a cultural refugee from New Jersey."

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just curious, pamela: if you don't mind my asking, are you swedish, or is the culture you live in NOT the one you were raised in? i'm NOT 'getting at' ANYTHING here, except just my curiosity as to whether your strong reaction is because you come from a culture which doesn't have this aspect, or not. :)

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