“My dance classes were open to anybody, my only stipulation was that they had to come to the class every day.” Merce Cunningham
Last week, I blogged about my early training as a dancer; what it meant to me, how it has shaped and led me to the choral profession. My ballet-life and my choral-life often overlapped; I taught ballet and choreographed a couple of shows to get through music school. And in grad school, I choreographed more shows. It always seemed when I needed money, a dance job suddenly appeared and since I was so well trained, it was easy.
This week, I am blogging about what I have brought from the ballet studio to the choral rehearsal. Just as in my own ballet-life/choral-life, there is plenty of overlap.
I am organized and ready for any contingency.
As a dancer, my dance bag had to hold anything I might need. There were tights and leotards and shoes galore but also other things you might be surprised about. There was always another sports bra and bandages—liquid, adhesive and ace—as well as Ben Gay ointment, sweaters, a tee-shirt, at least one character skirt, leg warmers, along with a towel and something to read. After an especially “fragrant” incident as a 14 year old, I changed out my dance clothes for clean ones every day. Tap dancers have itty-bitty screwdrivers in their bags and ballet dancers have soft ballet, character and pointe shoes and their own rosin. I am ready for anything because “anything” has already happened to me. These days, I always have AT LEAST two extra sets of complete folders for every rehearsal and every concert in my conducting bag and I bring my own music stand, if only to leave in my car.
I am able to take criticism in rehearsal and not take it personally.
When I started studying dance as a child, it was a shock the first time I was singled out and corrected. My first teacher, Ruth Ann Koesun, corrected so kindly but it still stung. At first, my feelings were hurt and I was confused but continued anyway because I loved dance. Gradually, I understood the need for correction; I had to understand what I needed to do to improve. My classmates who did NOT understand, dropped out but I persevered. Of course, there were teachers and directors I worked with after Ruth Ann who did NOT always correct kindly. I used them as a sort of lesson of what NOT to do. I believe kind and constructive criticisms, not belittling or smug, produce better choirs.
The structure of dance class and rehearsal prepared me for life.
Every dance class and rehearsal, no matter the genre, begins with preparation for what’s to come. First things first; no one understands that better than a dancer. Stretches begin classes to get physically ready. Classes or rehearsals are eased into; no one suddenly grand jetés across the room or injuries could result.
Barre and floor work isolates steps into manageable portions. It is much easier to perfect combinations when you understand the mechanics of the components. Beginning demi-plies may seem boring but their continued practice and perfecting is important for much of the rest of what a dancer does. I’ve learned sometimes the most boring is often the most important. Being able to break things down to the lowest common denominator is a skill many people don’t appreciate and it’s just as important to musicians as it is to dancers.
In dance class, Center is the place to work out problems in combinations and routines. Being able to be flexible (and not only in the physical sense), changing what needs to be changed and being tenacious until we “get it” becomes second nature to dancers. An idea a teacher or choreographer thought would work, does not, but something simple like a new order of steps or starting with the other foot makes a world of difference. It takes a certain type of attractive humility to be willing to change. I’ve seen many a respected dance pedagogue turn on a dime if need be. I’ve learned to be willing to try something new or different or to start over and am not afraid to do so.
There is a sense of accomplishment while working on a dance routine and perfecting it, much like learning a piece of music. It’s a feeling we might not be able to describe but know it when we feel it; preparation leads to artistry, no matter the art form.
In the end, I am not afraid to thank folks and show my gratitude.
The tradition of révérence at the end of ballet class is not only beautiful but gives opportunity to show gratitude. Many dance teachers also participate in révérence to demonstrate their own gratefulness to students and accompanist. And all clap at the end. A sense of gratitude and thankfulness for those you work with is always a good thing to cultivate, no matter where or what genre. I’ve tried to make this tradition my own by thanking my singers and accompanist at the end of all my rehearsals.
Because I was a dancer, I am prepared for anything and persevere no matter what. I start at the beginning, break things down and try new and different things with no regrets. And at the end, I thank people.
Next week, I’ll be blogging about an old-fashioned hymn that has new meaning to me in these Pandemic times, especially after this week’s Webinar of our choral leaders.
Thank YOU and be well!
I am taking my Choral Ethics Blogs to my chamber choir’s Facebook page for the foreseeable future. Please join me there this morning!