From Ballet to Words

I vividly remember one of my ballet teachers sitting us down midway through class and asking us who had inspired us to take up dancing? Who was it who’d given us such an aching passion for dance that we craved to spend every waking hour in the studio perfecting our technique and especially our pirouettes? She was frustrated with us all that day. None of us were living up to our potential. None of us were spotting properly when we turned so it was back to understanding why we’d even bothered to slip on our ballet shoes in the first place.

Margot Fonteyn and Anna Pavlova ranked amongst the most popular answers, both exquisite dancers. I had two dance heroines back then. Svetlana Beriosova and Isadora Duncan. Svetlana Beriosova had the most extraordinarily long limbs and perfect feet. Plus she shimmered when she crossed the stage, her movements so fluid, she was water. She was a mountain stream. I used to spend hours pouring over images of her hoping that if I stared long enough, I would somehow absorb some of her talent by osmosis and then I would find a way to create the perfect lines she created with my still growing limbs. How did she become the roles she danced? How did she lose Svetlana and become Odette? How was that even possible?

Isadora Duncan was wild and wonderful, unafraid to take risks in her dancing and personal life and I loved her for that. Her colourful death was tragic but only someone like Isadora could go out in that way. She was an original, poking away at the margins of an art form, reshaping it, regenerating herself and in so doing, causing others to stop and ponder. She was beyond courageous. I always took my imaginary hat off to her.

Later on, after reading Dancing On My Grave, and The Shape Of Love which she co-wrote with her husband Greg Lawrence, I added Gelsey Kirkland to that list. She was both a dancer and a wordsmith. She was set on portraying a story using every muscle, every fibre of her being. Would the audience understand that by rising from a chair using the muscles in her back in a certain way, Juliet, from the ballet Romeo and Juliet was saying, I have this much love for you? It was body speak and it had to be just right. Not too subtle, not too brash or you missed your mark on the love. Dance, she said, was more than just perfect technique. And she was right.

So those are my three dance heroines and I think it’s only fitting that words from one of them adorn my homepage. I want to be as courageous with words as they were with dance. I want to push myself to be the best writer I can be. I want to shimmer like water, poke away at margins. I am still a dancer in my bones. I always will be. It’s something you never lose.

I was lucky enough to be taught by Svetlana Beriosova at a dance summer school. And yes, I was the smallish girl in the corner hanging on her every word. I was the one who followed her at a distance when she walked down to the water to feed the ducks and swans. She was an older woman by then, unbelievably elegant and mesmerising. She was so gentle with those birds, bending down tender-hearted in a way that meant I would always adore her. And no, I was never a stalker. I was just a dancing girl trying to live out a dream.

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2 thoughts on “From Ballet to Words

  1. Congrats and welcome to the world of blogging 🙂 Loved how you compare the two disciplines, and the video is beautiful. It’s interesting because when I did dance classes as a child I always wanted to do my own thing and not follow someone else’s routine. Dancing is very much about self-expression for me (not that I’m able to do it much now). So I’m not sure I’d have been much good at the perfection. And I find I’m the same in my writing. Yes part of me wants it to be beautiful and precise but a stronger part argues for good enough. Sometimes I wish it was the other way round.

    Thank you for adding me to your links list, I shall reciprocate soon.

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  2. Thanks, Alison. You raise a good point. Dance should primarily be about enjoyment and freedom of expression. I loved the discipline of ballet. But before that discipline, I just loved to dance. It was there from the start, in my bones. Without that love of dance, the strict training regime for ballet becomes nothing more than a chore or an act of mastery. It becomes clinical and dry.
    Kids take up dancing because they love to dance. They love moving about to the music and they love the feeling of being free. It takes you outside of yourself and also centres you right inside yourself, I think. It’s not about perfection then, far from it. Perfection only kicks in when you want to pursue ballet as a career. It’s not necessarily a good thing and the training environment is not without its faults. It often engenders issues with body image and food.
    Making that leap into the real world ,(and it was forced by illness), was tough for me. I’d lived outside of it for so long. I wasn’t sure I had the necessary skills to belong.
    And the whole perfection/good enough thing I still struggle with. Ballet dancers are meant to be perfect and that’s ingrained in me, but my illness doesn’t allow for anything close to perfection. It’s a constant inner battle. How can just good enough ever be good enough? I ask myself…..

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