It has often been remarked that “Europe breeds artistry,” and that, to a certain extent, European dancers have an edge compared to their American counterparts. In defense of the American dancers, it is noted that they possess grit, tenacity, and a hunger that exceeds that of some of their European equivalents, yet the elusive artistic core lags or appears untapped in our culture. Certainly the environment of Europe provides a cultural banquet to nourish artistic growth, but does the European approach to training dancers incorporate more diversity, which in turn can contribute to greater creative growth? If so, can American dance schools fashion strategies based on this assumption?
Dancing is an art that takes a lifetime to perfect – and just a moment to lose. In fact, more than 80 percent of dancers experience injury during their careers, with some grave enough to end an individual’s role as a dancer forever.
It is these numbers that make those behind the stage question what steps need to be taken to improve the dance floor – the integral component of a dance environment – to protect the welfare of performers and ensure they have long, healthy careers ahead.
Can you be still? I mean really still. For just 5 minutes. No scratching or fidgeting. Quiet the mind. Focus on the breath.
You might be saying that’s impossible, your day is already full with early morning planning and development meetings; answering emails and responding to social media; fundraising appointments; marketing strategy sessions; budget reviews; artistic decisions; production issues; and that grant application, it’s due by 5:00 p.m.
We cannot change the need for relative thinness in this visual art form. But we can find better ways to communicate with the dancers, always aware of their vulnerability and always recognizing them as talented young people rather than body types.
Dancer wellbeing represents a glaring and puzzling concern within the dance world. The physical and psychological health of dancers becomes especially tricky to foster within an environment where worth is often based on physical appearance. Many other factors, such as limited funding and resources, also complicate the matters, making it a difficult terrain for dance professionals to navigate.
While many communities offer anchor festivals, residencies, and commissioning programs to which choreographers may apply, among other ongoing opportunities, dance makers across the country indicate that self-producing can be beneficial for gaining traction at any time in one’s career. But, many warned, it must be well examined and timed. It is a misperception that self-producing occurs only early in a choreographic career as a step to being fully presented. In the present climate, a lot of DIY energy is circulating, particularly due to the stifled economy. This results in alternative venues and channels from which to launch new works.
Warning to choreographers: hard work ahead. Yet, those who sign up to make dances are usually aware of the ongoing rigor involved on this path. For some artists, the mere question of how to gain traction draws silence, sighs, and even laughs, reflecting the challenging and individualized trajectory of choreographers. Illuminating current possibilities, a handful of voices from across the country share what has proved relevant to making progress and gaining momentum for creating new works in today’s challenging dance climate. Drawing from experiences of dance professionals and artists operating in solo, project-based, and company structures, Part 1 mines the personal qualities, practices, and DIY ethos of choreographers, and Part 2 (coming Thursday) addresses the role of artistic self production in the mix of platforms for delivering dance.
Some pre-professional ballet schools have taken a multi-disciplinary approach to wellness while others have focused primarily on the physical needs of their students. These differing approaches seem to imply that schools are justified in cherry-picking the multi-disciplinary model for the individual components they want. However, the very nature of ballet training makes multi-disciplinary wellness a necessity, not an option.
Rather than focusing solely on the body, many dance practitioners have begun to move toward a multi-disciplinary approach to training. This approach often includes attention to proper nutrition and rest, injury prevention and treatment, and mental health issues.