Angolan ballet

Let us play a guessing game. Who said these 3 quotes?

Quote 1: How does a dancer become more musical?

A person’s body first has to learn to sing in silence. Then you can talk about what you are doing with a musical phrase.

Quote 2: What life lessons has dance taught you?

Good work comes with team effort, not in isolation. Searching for truth in movement, finding intention behind movement is essential like it is in life. The pride of worldly success will not bring any lasting peace and can easily destroy a person’s soul. Anything exceptional requires great struggle. That the necessity in dance to apply strict boundaries in order to attain freedom can be a starting point for finding a similar truth in everyday life.

Quote 3: What do dancers have to learn on their own that no one can teach them?

Sacrifice. The desire to explore. You can inspire that, but you cannot teach it.

So. Was it Teacher who said those quotes? Could be, as each of his Fbk posts echo those statements. He has a few other maxims that he has drilled into the team’s collective consciousness:

  • “Repetition is the mother of all learning.”
  • “I don’t listen to the music, I learn the music.”
  • “Dance with punctuation.”
  • “There is no I in team.”

He grudgingly acknowledges that most of us work full-time, some team members even have two jobs, and cannot practice endlessly. I think it drives him bonkers, because he sees our potential and wants to work us to our max, but real world considerations limit him. The notion that we are not aiming to be professional dancers is a tenuous one in his mind. He approximately accepts it, but doesn’t fully understand it. His soul needs dance the way our bodies need oxygen. Without dance, Teacher would not be.

So. Was it he that said those quotes? Nope.

Gelsey Kirkland, arguably the greatest American ballerina of all time, whose career dominated international headlines in the 70s and 80s. She joined the New York City Ballet at age 15, at the personal invitation of Balanchine (aka the man who revolutionized ballet worldwide and gave it the aesthetic we recognize today), was promoted to principal ballerina by 19, had a dozen roles created in her honor, jumped ship at 24 to go to the rival American Ballet Theater, where she partnered for close to a decade with the great Baryshnikov. Unfortunately, terrible taste in men (she had multiple affairs with ballet dancers – men & artists? OYE!!!!) and paralyzing perfectionism triggered a self-destructive combination of cocaine, anorexia, bulimia and tantrums, which led to her quitting/getting fired from the ABT around 1980… only to make her comeback 3 years later at the Royal Opera Ballet in London. THAT’s how spectacular she was: despite a well mediatized drug addiction, one of the top ballet companies in the world wanted her back on the stage. She nailed her comeback, too.

Ballet. Kizomba. Worlds apart. Literally: Africa vs Western world. Diametric different styles. Teacher: male. Gelsey Kirkland: female. And yet. They are the same.  They are artists who must submit themselves to an all-consuming passion. They are dance. They lives are messy, Shakespearean tragedies. Their behavior can be alienating (Gelsey Kirkland published two infamous autobiographies, which outline in detail just how off-putting she could be), but they are ruled by the truth of dance. And because of that, because of their relentless pursuit of truth in movement, people respond to them. In a world that is confusing, often dishonest, invariably unfair, stumbling upon a person whose life is ruled by the need to capture truth – any truth – is a breath of fresh air.

As my shadow seeks to blot out the sunshine in my life, I feel a deep sympathy with these complicated artists. I cling to dance because of those moments of truth they reveal. And because each revelation is physical, experienced through my body, those moments are stored deep in the very biological makeup of my cells and give me ammunition to fight my poisonous brain.

The dance goes on forever. So shall I. So shall we. – Gelsey Kirkland

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