I love ballet. LOVE it. More than boxing. However, my dreams of being a prima ballerina were dashed in grade 5 when I first blew out my knee performing a basic glissade, and again in grade 6 when I was doing nothing more complicated than standing up. After those two incidents (which involved protracted hospital stays, casts, operations, wheel chairs, crutches and all kinds of other fancy hardware), my ballet teacher approached my mother, and suggested very gently that perhaps I should consider a career that was not physical in nature.
And that, kids, is how I wound up in accounting (*).
Ballet’s sometimes uncool rep
Over time, I noticed that my love for ballet was not generally shared. Frequent opinions include:
- “Bunch of men prancing about in leggings, ew.”
- “Bunch of girls prancing about in tutus, ew.”
- “I suppose from an athletic perspective, its impressive, but ballet is an archaic art form, it just doesn’t speak to me; it isn’t relevant anymore.”
- “Classical music ain’t my thing. It’s not like hip-hop or rap or even country; it just ain’t keepin’ it real.”
And so, ladies and gents, I am on a mission to prove that ballet does, in fact, keep it real.
L’histoire de Manon is da realest
This ballet tells the story of a beautiful girl, Manon, who can’t decide between her penniless true love and an old sugar daddy. She runs away with her true love; her old sugar daddy bribes her with jewelry and nice clothes to come back to him, so she bails on her true love and shacks up with Sugar Daddy. True Love tries to convince her to return to him whilst at a party; she refuses because she likes pretty, expensive things, so he defrauds Sugar Daddy by cheating at cards with him. True Love gets caught, and he and Manon run away together. Sugar Daddy vengefully follows them, with the police: they get into a scuffle, her brother gets accidentally shot by Sugar Daddy and she gets arrested as a prostitute. While in prison awaiting her conviction, the prison guard rapes her (the portrayal of which is done rather explicitly on stage). True Love, attempting to save her, arrives too late, but just in time to stab the prison guard before they both get shipped off to the States (as the ballet is set in France in the 18th century, this was a reasonable conviction for criminals). The ballet ends with Manon and True Love having escaped to a swamp, where she dies.
Now, what part of that ain’t real? I believe we have all gone through something similar, right? Right?!
The power of ballet
I challenge anyone to look at that ending clip and not get goosebumps.
I am perpetually amazed by dancers’ freedom of movement. There is seemingly no movement they can’t do. Run, jump, twist, move… Athletically, they are incredible.
But what truly rocks my world about ballet is how it is a form of communication that transcends language. Music does that, but when music makes you feel an emotion – how can you express and externalize what you are feeling? Words cannot do it justice, they are too small and limited. I have frequently felt an emotion that was bigger than words, that just filled me up and wished that I could somehow communicate what I was feeling by using all of me. Alas, because I am not a ballerina, I cannot, and so the emotions stay trapped inside of me. However, when I look at ballet, and the dancers who use all of themselves, from the arch of their neck to the tip of their pinky, part of those emotions trapped inside of me find expression, through the communion that happens between dancers and their audience. In that clip, if I were to try name emotions, I would say they danced despair & hope, defeat & grief.
Just another reason why ballet is da realest – “a state of being honest, truthful, raw and respected”.
(*) Not really, but let’s pretend that it is so, for the sake of this blog.