Reclaiming Space and Embracing the Cliche

Last week, I ran away from Camp Ballet, but just for an hour.

Modern class.

Basic Level.

I like ballet, because it is structured, organized and disciplined, but at times, it encourages harshness. It makes you turn to the mirror and seek out all the little (and big!) things that need fixing. In beginner and basic level classes, the amount of center work is limited due to time constraints (the class is on 60 min after all), and sometimes all there is to class is barre.Barre is important, perhaps the most important thing for the beginner student, but the habitual routine of plié-tendu-developpe at the barre shrinks one’s personal dancing space. Within weeks, the sense of space, the sense of freedom, the sense of flying through time deteriorates.

It happened to me. I unlearned moving in space. So yesterday, when the teacher showed her “little dance etude” as she called it, I stood watching with mouth open, in fear. All of a sudden, there was no structure; there was just legs and arms making shapes in space, moving across the floor, moving on the floor, whirling in space. The freedom was exhilarating. Moving in space is an entirely different thing.

But it is also a treacherous thing. The instructor encourages us to dance with feeling. What does she mean? What does it mean to dance with feeling? In ballet, movements do not have a predefined emotional structure (at least, in my opinion, but then again I’m no pro ballet dancer or dance critic).  What I’m trying to say (I guess…) is that an arabesque can be both and expression of grief and an expression of joy. It can be tragic or exuberant; the particular flavor is given to the movement by the choreographic context and the interpretation of the dancer. But an increasing trend in modern dance is to infuse everything with a sense of tragedy aka dancing out my broken heart.

If you’re brave enough to venture into the videojungle, you’ll find countless of examples of modern choreography that somehow involves grief, sorrow or loss. Not that this makes a choreography bad. Not  at all. It’s just that in a beginner class, it’s so easy to do the cliché without stopping to think: what does this piece truly mean to me?

Here are some modern/lyrical pieces set to popular songs

Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy

Fragile by Delta Goodrem

I love the floorwork in this one…


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