Tag Archives: Ballet

The Technical Dancer: Perception of Beauty through the World of Dance

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After a few years of teaching Hiphop dance, I’ve come to realize how complex the form is. I constantly push myself to find creative ways to break down the fundamentals of Hiphop dance, and I can tell you that transferring the basics to the average student is a difficult thing to do. I’ve found that there are many complicated body patterns within something even as “simple” as grooving to music!

I’ve gathered a new appreciation for all of the dope Hiphop dancers who haven’t had a day of formal training in their lives, yet contain this kinesthetic awareness that allows them to move with such virtuosity! From bboying, to popping, to waacking and more…Hiphop dance is tough! There are so many subtle nuances within each style that these dancers constantly train to maintain and improve. There is a word that people use in ballet and contemporary to describe the execution of fundamentals within their own dance forms…technique.

Yet, I rarely hear the word technique used to describe Hiphop dance. Instead, I hear quotes like, “[We’re] putting together the sort of untrained world of Hiphop with the formally trained…”- Nigel Lythgoe (Director of the television series: So You Think You Can Dance).

Thinking this may just be one person’s bias, I did a little research. First, I typed in “Dance Technique” in google and received these images…
"Technique"

Mostly all of them were in sync with Nigel’s description: long legs and arms, lean bodies, straight lines, pointed feet, flexible muscles, etc. You may think I’m generalizing, but seriously, look for yourself in the pages of google and see what you find. In the same SYTYCD interview, Nigel is asked, “How long does it take for you to tell that this person is great [at dance], or this person is not very good?” and he responds with, “You can basically tell very very quickly…you notice that legs aren’t straight or toes aren’t pointed or the lack of technique is noticed pretty soon.” So, in educating the masses of America (and the world!) about dance, certain leaders– and I would argue many leaders– of the community are instilling an idea of beauty through movement based off of euro-centric ideals. All that is to say, apparently, we Hiphop dancers are untrained, and without technique…ouch.

Yet, that very thought was what I based my value as a dancer on in the beginning of my career. Training within academia, I constantly take classes with bodies that do not look like my own; and, therefore, it is hard not feel frustration at the fact that I am a muscle-bound, flat-footed mover. I have injured myself trying to force myself into splits, faced embarrassment as teachers tried to get me to do something that my body literally won’t do, and wreathed in frustration because, no matter my efforts, I felt as though I was not living up to the idea of a technical, beautiful, mover.

So, this got me thinking…if a Hiphop dancer does not have technique, then what do we have? I did a little more research and typed in, “the antonym of technique”:

Ignorant. Impotence. Inability. Incompetence. Ineptitude. Lack.

…………yea.

In the movie Malcolm X (1992), there is a scene where Malcolm’s mentor in jail is showing Malcolm the definition of black and white in the dictionary during the 1960’s. The definition of “white” had words such as innocent, pure, and harmless while “black” had words like forbidding, foul, wicked and others that exuded negativity and evil. Now, maybe I’m reaching too far…but maybe I’m just connecting dots…why are dance genres that derive from European’s sense of beauty the ones that get the claim of being professional, scholarly, and specialized (synonyms of technical)?

Many people before me have said this, but with this post I’m just here to repeat it: Hiphop dance, as well as every other dance genre that derives from the African tradition, is a technical form. I’m sick and tired of leaders in the industry inferring that the movement that I identify with is inferior to any other. Technical ideas such as groundedness, broken lines, SWAG, isolations, undulations, release, flexed feet, and many more all have value and are technicalities in dance that many “technical dancers” don’t have.

So, to end, I just encourage you to question anyone who talks about a mover having or not having technique. Maybe it won’t do a thing, but I believe that the more we question, the more we become aware, and the less conventions will exist that separate the value of peoples in our nation and in our world.

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“Like” and “Ballet” Can Go In the Same Sentence?!

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Throughout the first three of five years I have been dancing, nobody could convince that I would remotely enjoy ballet. From the form-fitting tights that showed too much information to the stiff torsos that meandered around the stage, everything about the form disgusted my Hiphop being. I could not wrap my head around how anyone could dance to slow music played by the piano…where are my drums!? Straight legs and pointed feet, I laugh at the thought! Nobody is going to catch me looking like I got a stick up my butt! It did not help that my resistance to ballet went beyond Hiphop. My peers within my undergraduate dance program at Penn State (dirty hippy modern dancers as they liked to call themselves) even despised the possibility of going back to that-which-shall-not-be-named. However, after constant discovery of limitations in my dancing, and hearing many words of wisdom from professional dancers, I decided that my senior year would be dedicated to practicing the bunhead movement.

My senior year of ballet was amazing. I had a wonderful teacher (Spence Ford shoutout!!) and great talent surrounding me through the musical theater department. Although I was improving, and had found peace with ballet, nobody would ever hear me say I liked the thing. I was enjoying the fact that there is a lot of right or wrong within the form. There is not as much room for conceptualization and abstraction. My analytical mind was satisfied that there was a goal to accomplish, and there were specific ways to obtain that goal. Despite that fact, I still was having a hard time dancing! I felt stiff: constantly trying to scoop my stomach, press my sternum in, stand straight, etc, etc.

And then my first course of ballet at The Ohio State University happened… I transferred a level down right after that catastrophe of a class was over. The course was actually amazing, it was just that I could not keep up for the life of me. But, I made a promise to myself that I will survive and thrive in Karen Eliot’s ballet class before my tenure is done at OSU (it’s documented now, so I guess I have to actually do it).

In stepping a level down, I never thought I would enter one of the best dance classes I have ever taken- yes, I said it- A BALLET CLASS WAS ONE OF THE BEST I HAVE EVER TAKEN! Throughout this 2013 Fall semester, I have battled my way through to the point where I now feel like I can dance to some good, soft, balletic music. There were growing pains, but an encouraging instructor (Maria Glimscher shoutout!!), a great cohort of classmates, and an open mind allowed for me to find a deep satisfaction within the beauty of the form. I still cannot get my leg above 90, or turn even two or three times without stumbling, and Lord knows petit allegro has me looking like a fish out of water; however, I can express who I am through ballet movement, and I feel as though that is a breakthrough that will go down as an ultimate highlight of my OSU dance career once I graduate.