What Happened To Knowing Your Ballet History?

I stood in front of 6 dancers, all in their teens, and all (or at least, most) supposedly dedicated to becoming professional ballet dancers.

This was variations class, and I had decided to teach them the first solo from Les Sylphides. I asked them, “who can tell me the choreographer of Les Sylphides?”

Silence.

“Okay, who composed the music for Les Sylphides?”

Silence.

These aren’t 8 year olds. They’re teens. And they have no idea who or what Les Sylphides IS??!!

Perhaps I am “old school.”  I came up in a studio where, from Day 1, we looked at photographs of all the great ballet dancers, choreographers, composers, and directors, learning who they were and what they did for the world of ballet.

I am glad that in today’s ballet environment, emphasis is placed on proper alignment, healthy diet, and strong technique.  However, I believe that ballet history is equally important. Why? Because, it informs the dancer on his/her approach to the role they are dancing. It connects the dots between past and present, educating them about how we got to where we are today. It’s HISTORY – you know, that class you’re required to take in SCHOOL?!

Sigh. I hope this is not becoming an epidemic, but I fear that America, as usual, is less concerned with history and more interested in Snap stories.  How high is your leg? How many pirouettes can you do?  I’m sorry, but these are hallmarks of GYMNASTICS.  Yes, I love a high leg (when put in an appropriate environment, NOT GISELLE) and multiple turns are fun to watch AND do, but come ON, people!  Where is the story? The emotion? The ACTING?! That is what sets ballet apart, in my opinion.  That is why it is an ARTFORM, not a SPORT.

Well, I can whine about it, or I can do something about it.  I guess I’ll need to start printing up ballet photos and laminating them for my classes, just like Miss Alexandra Zaharias, my St. Louis ballet teacher, did for us.  It’s tactile, it’s something the dancer can jump over, bourré around, and memorize.  It’s always something, isn’t it?  Perhaps that is why I love ballet so much. There is always MORE to do. Never a dull moment.

If you want something to change, it starts with you. And, that is how history is made.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Linda says:

    I recently came across a post on social media where a young Ballet student said “what’s a Baryshnikov?”

    Like

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