Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Day 1: Partnering at Rhythm Pointe

Let me tell you a secret about speaking to someone who hasn’t mastered your language. Often words that seem more complicated are actually easier for a foreigner to understand than words that seem simple. These are the words of the scholars, academics and at one time the royalty. They passed their multi-syllabic utterances across borders while the simple everyday words stayed home. Thus Valery immediately recognizes the word “stereotype,” but occasionally forgets the word for “toes.”

I make this observation by way of introducing the topic of boys in ballet. As we travel from studio to studio, boys are glaringly absent. The cultural stereotypes that discourage young men from taking part in ballet do not exist in Russia, and so Valery has a hard time understanding them.

You only need to watch one professional ballet to see that being a dancer requires all the strength and agility of a top athlete. Ballerinas are generally light women, but they’re not so light that they can be lifted into the air and balanced without some power. And unlike an athlete who can grunt and grimace when he performs a huge leap or runs until he’s used all his energy, dancers must perform their feats and stay in character, all the while disguising their heavy breathing. Russian culture views this as an entirely masculine role.

The stereotypes that keep many American boys out of ballet are a shame. Ballet is an excellent way to channel energy. Boys who dance enjoy the benefits of dancer’s discipline, improved posture and coordination, appreciation of classical music, the ability to perform in front of others and to think creatively.

The unbalanced male to female ratio also affects the girls who simply do not have opportunities to learn skills like ballet partnering unless they seek out very serious high-level instruction. So we were pleased to have the chance to introduce some partnering basics to the students at Rhythm Pointe.

Valery went in wondering how it would be possible to teach partnering to a class with only one male student. In the end, however, the class—which used a combination of young non-dancer male friends, and girls dancing the male parts-- was a great success, and Valery left hoping for more opportunities to teach duet classes in America.

The partnering portion of the class began with a few nervous giggles. The handful of male volunteers who were dragged along by overly enthusiastic ballerina friends needed a little coaxing, but with no ballet background at all, they performed amazingly well and they took their task seriously. For Valery it was especially gratifying to have the opportunity to teach these students something brand new. Ballet is not solitary. Partnering is the next step in the development of a ballet dancer.

The class was not long enough to cover everything that Valery would have liked. But in the end, maybe this is as it should be— hopefully the students are left wanting more and they'll go out and reach for it.

Thank you to Maria Huber for welcoming us once again to this lively and well-run studio. Valery loves to return to studios where he can see familiar faces and continue to work with students.

Tomorrow we’re off to the Romeo Civic Dance Studio. What we most remember about this class from last year was one eight year old student who participated in the intermediate level class made up of people twice her age. Even though she could sometimes barely reach the barre, she followed every step and truly glowed with the “light of learning.” When you love to dance, it shows!