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Friday, December 23, 2005

Re: ArtsJournal Forum

Leigh Witchel said this at the end of one of his recent posts
Tere O’Connor and I probably don’t see eye to eye on much, but we do agree that Movin’ Out is crap, the kind of crap you leave with a headache and leaves people thinking they've seen art when all they've seen is pop.

This struck me not only because I agree, but I guess because I feel it ties into more than the rubbish it is on the outside.

I grew up in an athletic family, one of four boys. We all wanted to be professional sports players, heck my brothers are still making those dreams a reality. When you talk to kids of the pro-sports persuasion they all have a team they want to play for when they grow up. A few will grow up wanting to play for one team regardless of their winning percentage. But most want to play for the season’s hottest team. I asked one of my brothers, a successful high school baseball player on a successful team, “what would you do if you were drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays? You’d be bound to lose 7 out of every 10 games you played for the rest of your life!” I wasn’t sure if he enjoyed playing the game or whether he simply enjoyed winning; heaven knows either can motivate a ball player to a successful career. But maybe it should be different in dance. In a literal sense we don’t have to deal with winning and losing, isn’t the artistry of dance supposed to fill this vacuum?

I’ve always had a problem at the ballet studio when people say they want to dance for ABT or NYCB because they are “the best.” Would making it into one of these companies be their way of winning at ballet? And then what happens when they finally make it in? I understand when children feel this way; it’s a sign of the ambition we all need to be successful. But when these thoughts prevail into adulthood, it creates a problem.

I have many friends, young professionals in the field, that base their success on the most prestigious job they are offered. In this field of work we are taught to take any job we can get, and this is important. But what happens when a dancer is faced with options? Obviously it’s is a dream come true, but don’t laugh, it happens. In my limited experience the dancers I’ve known when given a choice between a job at Company A and Company B have chosen the company with the most prestige, with the highest winning percentage. They take the “best job,” irrespective of much else that might have set this particular job apart from another.

I understand we all have to put food on the table. But instead of taking the time to learn how two companies are managed differently, or how two company’s members interact, or how promotion among the ranks are handled, I’ve seen friends take one job over another simply because they’ll feel more comfortable or successful or whatever telling people they are with this company instead of the other.

This neglect of artistry is a problem, and don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t happen. I have friends that have seriously auditioned for Movin’ Out, and friends that plan on attending future auditions. Some claim to do it for the money, some for the experience of touring (obviously they haven’t toured before). I’ve know only one person that’s wanted to do it for the artistry.

The point I am trying to make is that we, dancers, talk so often about the functions of society outside of our field that make our lives hard. There is still catching up to be done within the field. It seems strikingly clear to me that when signing contracts or auditioning for jobs young professionals become overly preoccupied with the externalities of the result. Many of us are not taught to ask ourselves “how will I respond as an individual in this or that environment?” Perhaps it’s because we have spent so much of our lives to this point performing for others. Regardless, it must me impressed upon young dancers that their responsibly to the art form, and themselves, is not necessarily to take the most attractive job. But instead, to consider the job that will facilitate the most growth within themselves, the people that surround them, and the audiences they might perform for. Isn’t this why we are here?


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