Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Spirit of the Classical Dance.

For my Dance History class, I was asked to read an article entitled "The Spirit of the Classical Dance" by Andre Levinson.  Though it was written in the early 1900s a lot of what was said resounded deeply with my present feelings about dance.  I have been searching for these words since I began my training in dance am I am excited to have finally come across them.  Firstly, I want to share a few lines that mirror my thoughts:
  • "And thus it is that when a dancer rises on her points, she breaks away from the exigencies of everyday life, and enters into an enchanted country- that she may thereby lose herself in the ideal."
  • "To discipline the body to this ideal function, to make a dancer of a graceful child, it is necessary to begin by dehumanizing him, or rather by overcoming the habits of ordinary life."
  • "The accomplished dancer is an artificial being, an instrument of precision and he is forced to undergo rigorous daily exercise to avoid lapsing into his original purely human state."
  • "...the ideal is the result of a disinterested will for perfection, and unquenchable thirst to surpass himself."
  • "You may ask whether  I am suggesting that the dancer is a machine?  But most certainly!- a machine for manufacturing beauty- if it is any way possible to conceive a machine that in itself is a living, breathing thing, susceptible of the most exquisite emotions."

Before I continue, I would encourage the reader to reconsider his or her definition of "dehumanizing" and "unhuman."  I argue, as is my interpretation, that Levinson is not insisting that dancers are robot slaves bound to their art, but instead humans that are greater than the typical person in their physical accomplishments and scopes for creating beauty.

As a dancer, I have at one point felt a connection with each of the above statements.  From my youth onward, I have always believed my life as a dancer to be separate and perhaps greater than my "normal" or "typical" life.  Living in a studio and on stage were both in and of themselves worlds separate from ones in which my peers were living.  I could imagine this feeling would be replicated by any of my friends as passionate and dedicated to their craft as I was to mine.  When I would get home from school, I would immediately go to dance.  When I was at school, I was thinking of dance and the world that my fellow dancers and I had created.  Whether this world was healthy or prosperous is a debate for a different time, but during those moments when I envisioned dancing I felt more alive and more present in my own body than I did sitting at my ordinary laminated school desk.  My drive to surpass myself is what did and does drive me to continue practicing the art of dance.  There is within my soul, as Levinson states, an "unquenchable thirst to surpass [myself]."  This thirst, this desire, gets me out of bed and to my class when it is cold and I am tired; it is the very thing that motivates me.

I have never considered, until this article, the marvel and the wondrous effects of the "turnout" and what it has taken to train my body to accomplish it.  I would consider myself to have an adequate turnout, but this turnout is so integrated into my body that it has taken considerable training and force to get my legs to return to a parallel state as is desired during the practice of yoga.  The positions of dance have become a part of who I am, so much so that I am identified as a dancer by passerby due to my stance and posture.  Because it is such a large and integral part of my self, I have over looked the incredible benefits that it has afforded my movement.  Turnout allows legs to reach new extensions and to beat in jumps.  It has taken years of training to avoid "lapsing into [my] original purely human state."  I am not insisting that I am a sort of cocky super-human dancer, but instead that my practice in dance has allowed my body to explore new "unhuman" states.

This article instantly made me consider something I had discussed in an earlier dance history class where we spent considerable time learning about the post-modern marvels that are the members of the Judson Theater group.  One member left Grahm's company to live in San Fransisco and eventually contribute to the group discussed that the reason she left was because she desired to feel human again.  Grahm responded that her company and others like hers were composed of dancers, not humans.  While I do not argue that the desire to feel like a human dancer is an invalid choice, I have personally never been interested in being human.  Identity, especially to a growing child, is given a special emphasis in society.  I always relished in saying that I was a dancer and I recall during the time that I stopped dancing as much as I previously had, I experienced a loss of identity.  To me, being a dancer was sometime entirely different from being a human.  While I explored human emotions and capabilities, dance was, as previously mentioned, a world of its own.  There is no place where I feel more alive than when I am on stage.  In this moment I disagree with Levinson; I am never a human until I am a dancer.  Perhaps my training has been "dehumanizing" but I feel true life for a few fleeting moments when I am on stage.

My experience at UCSD has been a positive one and I have loved learning about many new aspects of dance.  I have been exposed to a world of dance different than the one I am accustomed to, and for that I am grateful.  However, in such a modern-minded university, there is little emphasis on the art of performance that I loved so much as a young dancer.  This article was a beautiful reminder of all that I love about being a dancer and about the passion that I feel while I am on stage.  While it is a wonderful thing to be able to dance, this process, for me, is fulfilled while I am entering the "enchanted country" that is the theatre.  I hope that this post has allowed entry into my way of thought regarding dance.