Friday, 5 December 2014

Your Body: The Relationship With Your Reflection

By Kathleen McGuire
How to use the mirror to improve—without getting lost in a cycle of self-criticism

Julia Erickson

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson in the studio. Photo by Aimee DiAndrea, Courtesy PBT.

Every day, the dancer looking back at you in the mirror looks different. Often she’s disappointing. Her neck seems too short, or her bust too big. She has floppy wrists and an ironing board where her arabesque should be. Nonetheless, you are captivated by her, and on the hardest days it can feel like it is your reflection and not you who is really living and dancing.

Dancers need the mirror—it provides immediate feedback about line and movement quality in a way that nothing else can. But our reflections can be hard to face as they bend and curve with the distortions of our self-confidence. In a visual art form that prizes physical excellence, your demon can be your own likeness inside a polished surface. A healthy relationship with the mirror negotiates an appreciation of this vital tool with an awareness of the emotional fragility that can come with a life of constant self-examination.

Look at the Whole Line
Part of what makes our relationship with the mirror so difficult is how much importance we place in it. “The mirror is often the lens through which dancers have a relationship with their body,” says American Psychological Association president Dr. Nadine Kaslow, who has worked with Atlanta Ballet dancers. But is this healthy? Kaslow points out that there is rarely such a thing as an accurate reflection. Almost all mirrors are distorted by the walls on which they are mounted (hence “good mirrors” and “bad mirrors”), but also by our own perceptions and insecurities. “Dancers often end up having relationships with parts of themselves rather than their whole body,” she says. When looking in the mirror, our eyes tend to gravitate to what we don’t like: a thick torso, bowed legs, less-than-perfect feet. “Our bodies are whole and we need to get a sense of them as whole,” says Kaslow. Train yourself to see your entire body—focus on the big picture of your line or the shape you are making. Of course, droopy elbows or other technical problems may catch your attention; fix them, then let your eyes pan out. “Honestly, sometimes I would blur my vision so that I wouldn’t go crazy on myself in the mirror,” says Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson of her days as a hyper–self-critical student.

Focus on What the Mirror Offers
How you think of the mirror can influence how it affects you. Finis Jhung, famous for his thoughtful training of teachers and dancers alike, teaches his students to approach the mirror as an instrument for their own empowerment. “I want you to learn to teach yourself,” he says. “We all think we’re doing something, but we’re doing something else—unless you look in the mirror you’re not going to see that.” By viewing the mirror as a tool for your independence, your relationship with it can become more professional, less personal.

Only Look Deliberately
Teachers will often turn students toward a wall so they avoid getting lost in their reflections. “Certain steps are impossible to execute well while looking in the mirror,” Erickson says. “How many times has a dancer tried to look at themselves doing penché and then fell over?” The same can be applied to the maintenance of your mental state. We’ve all had classes where we can’t escape the disappointing image of our reflection. And yet we continue to look back at it compulsively, as if it might change between combinations. Cut yourself a break and attempt to look only while you are dancing and not to mentally measure your thigh gap.

Erickson points out that you’ll often find girls preening in their reflections even between rehearsals. “We’ve all been in a studio talking to another dancer and they’re looking at themselves in the mirror while they’re having a conversation with you,” she says. “It’s not that they’re vain; they just can’t get out of the cycle of self-examining. If you can, brush that little devil off your shoulder.” Try to make sure that when you are looking in the mirror it is deliberate—and only for the purpose of bettering your dancing.

Kaslow says you may benefit from taking a break from mirrors in the outside world. Dancers can become so reliant on their reflection that they seek it out without realizing it. The next time you pass a dark shop window, acknowledge that you want to sneak a peek of yourself walking by, then deliberately choose not to.

Find the Positive
Ultimately a negative relationship with your reflection is a result of depleted confidence. Some of this is up to you; Kaslow advises that you point out something positive about yourself when you are struggling with the image looking back at you. Instead of mentally whittling away at every single thing that makes your feet look less than perfect, take the time to compliment yourself on your high arabesque or nicely toned arms. But both Kaslow and Jhung agree that teachers need to be involved with establishing this habit, too. Kaslow believes dancers should be taught how distorted a reflection can be early in their training. Jhung feels strongly that throughout a dancer’s career, it is the business of the teacher to ensure his dancers feel confident by using positive reinforcement as well as corrections to shape them. “Find a giving person to be your teacher,” advises Jhung.

Know You’re Not Alone
The complexity of a dancer’s relationship with the mirror is nuanced. At its worst it can feel like a private struggle in an effort to really see yourself. But no one is immune. Even Erickson, whose striking image is often plastered on buses and billboards all over Pittsburgh, admits that when she moves to center floor in company class, she still looks for the “good” mirror.

Source: Dance Magazine 

Words of Wisdom From an Older Dancer

by Keesha Beckford (mother, dance teacher, blogger,
Posted: 04/22/2014 5:16 pm

1. Treat class, and your every opportunity to dance, as a gift, as a special time for you.

2. Leave your emotional baggage outside. Let class be your chance to think only about you. Let it be your therapy. Let it heal.

3. Listen to every correction given. Try to implement it, even if it wasn't given to you.

4. Take a correction to the nth degree. Your teacher can always pull you back.

5. If you don't understand the correction, ask.

6. A dance class is a lab. Experiment continually. Never do it the same way twice.

7. Even if doing so is outside your comfort zone, stand in the front sometimes. Your teacher is only human. She or he may move students around, but if it seems that you don't want to be seen, you just might not be.

8. Don't worry about her feet, her extension, how many turns he does or her natural alignment. Work with what you have. Celebrate your gifts, while working your damn-est to overcome any shortcomings.

9. There is only one you. You can't work to your fullest potential trying to be someone else.

10. Competition and knowing the strengths of other dancers is healthy, as long it is a motivating force, not a defeating one.

11. Know your history, and learn from the past. Don't dismiss the choreographers and techniques of the past as "old school." That movement was visionary for a reason, and it serves as a foundation for what interests us now.

12. While there may be a few exceptions out there, every teacher has something to offer. Never write anyone off because you don't like her build, style, attire, body decoration or manner.

13. The dance world is maybe two degrees of separation. Always be diligent and respectful. Word about bad behavior moves faster than a Balanchine petit allegro.

14. While your teacher should be respectful, she or he is not there to be your friend, but to make you a better dancer.

15. If you can find teachers whose class speaks to you, and where you are both complimented and thoughtfully corrected, you are very lucky indeed.

16. Believe that pushing through and learning something in that weird, boring or super-challenging class will pay off. In the New Dance Order of America these days, the versatile dancer -- the one with a solid understanding of several techniques -- gets the prize.

17. There will always be bad days. Do not be defined by them.

18. Push yourself. Hard. But acknowledge when you have done all you can, at least for the time being. Sometimes the epiphany, the breakthrough, comes later.

19. Immediate gratification is rare. When it happens it is the result of years of training. The fun and the joy are in the struggle.

20. Keep dance in perspective. Know that you can still be a smart, loving, fantastic person with a great life even if one day you can't buy a decent pirouette.

21. It is never too early to gain a firm grasp on somatic concepts. If you wait too long to develop this beautiful mind, your body might be an unwilling partner.

22. Feats of nature, contortion-esque flexibility, oodles of pirouettes and sky-high jumps are dazzling. But remember that dance is communication. Dance is artistry. Keep in mind the power and potential of small and simple movement.

23. Did I say to treat every chance to dance as a gift?

Source: Huffington Post

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Region: Egypt - Move to teach art in state institute triggers controversy

A plan to create a government institute to qualify belly dancers has raised eyebrows and drawn criticism in this predominantly Muslim country, where this art once thrived and enthralled the world.

By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent
Published: 22:52 July 16, 2009

Cairo: A plan to create a government institute to qualify belly dancers has raised eyebrows and drawn criticism in this predominantly Muslim country, where this art once thrived and enthralled the world.

This plan "seriously challenges the Egyptian society's traditions and glaringly violates the constitution", which states that Islam is the official religion of the country and that the sharia is the main source of legislation, said Farid Esmail, a member of parliament.

Creating such institutes threatens the society with the spread of depravity, he said. "What we need are vocational training institutes, not belly dance schools."

Esmail predicted that the parliament would not endorse any plan to establish such "immorality dens".

Officials contacted by Gulf News declined to comment or elaborate on the plan.

A wave of Islamisation has recently swept Egypt, manifesting itself in the majority of Muslim women in this country of 80 million wearing the hijab or the niqab.

Official television no longer broadcasts belly dancing, which is frowned upon as unIslamic.

In recent years, fewer Egyptian girls have taken up dancing as a profession, a matter that has cleared the way for nightclubs especially in Egypt's tourist spots to recruit performers from other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine.

"I see no problem in setting up an institute to train belly dancers," said Dr Mohammad Abul Ghar, a medical professor.

This would cause no harm to society. On the contrary, this move would keep this traditional art alive and stop intruders from damaging its reputation, he told Gulf News.

Abul Ghar is a member of the March 9 Movement, a protest group pushing for the independence of Egypt's universities from the government control.

Pharaonic temples are inscribed with images of dancers, he said. So dancing is part of our tradition, which we should protect from extinction.

He blamed interlopers for making belly dancing synonymous with debauchery. The suggested institute is likely to help groom local dancers to revive the refined face of this genre and stop invasion by foreign performers of this native art.

Until a few years ago, belly dancers were usually recruited to perform at Egyptian wedding parties in fashionable and working-class areas alike.

Source: Gulf News

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

With Willing Spirit, a Reprise for Ailey Dancers

Published: December 24, 2013

The voice on the phone belonged to Masazumi Chaya, the associate artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and he had a startling proposition. Would she — Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish, 55 years old, former Ailey superstar and current artificial-hip owner — come out of retirement to dance at a special performance on New Year’s Eve?

“Are you kidding me?” she responded.

No, he was not kidding, and eventually the answer was yes, she would do it. And it was yes, too, for a handful of other Ailey alumni who received similar calls, among them Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, 43, who teaches dance in Maryland; Dudley Williams, 75, who joined the company in 1964 and remained for 31 years; and Donna Wood Sanders, 59, who has spent the last 20 years raising a family in the Westchester suburbs.

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
It could almost be a plot from one of those movies in which legendarily gifted jewel thieves or grizzled special-forces assassins are lured out of retirement for one last impossible heist or against-the-odds mission. But this is different, more of a reckoning, a coming to grips with the passage of time. “Revelations,” a classic of American modern dance set to gospel music and spirituals, is Ailey’s best-known and most-performed dance, a thread through the history of the company and a work every Ailey dancer knows intimately. “It’s in my DNA,” Ms. Fisher-Harrell said by telephone. “Even if I wanted to forget it, I couldn’t.”

But knowing how to do something doesn’t mean being able to do it the same way you did it before. The dancers spoke of thinking one thing in their heads but having something else, perhaps, happen in their limbs. “Does the body do what it did when it was 20?” Ms. Fisher-Harrell said. “Maybe not.”

Ms. Roxas-Dobrish, who left the company 15 years ago, was assigned a particularly difficult portion of the piece, a pas de deux set to the music of the spiritual hymn “Fix Me, Jesus.” She was suffused by doubt. Her hip-replacement surgery had taken place at the end of 2012. “I also don’t have any A.C.L. in both of my knees,” she blurted suddenly about the state of her ligaments, almost as an aside, in a post-rehearsal interview. The veterans’ one-time performance Tuesday at New York City Center (where the company is in residence through Jan. 5) begins at 7 p.m.

So she got to work. She enlisted the help of a physical therapist, a massage therapist and an acupuncturist; she tweaked her diet; she stepped up her Pilates; and she started going to class again. She began to see the dance from a new perspective, not just as a showcase for technique but as an expression of “all the things that life has put into you.”

And no, she said, she cannot do it exactly the same way she did when she was young: when she arches her back toward the floor while balancing on one leg and extending the other high into the air in one especially hard movement, for instance, she cannot bend back as far as she once did. “Alvin always said, ‘Ponytail to the floor,’ ” she said. “That’s not going to happen.”

She added: “When you’re younger, you have everything — you have the flexibility, you have no fear. But you don’t savor every step, every movement of every fingertip, every beat of the music. I feel like I’m tasting food for the first time.”

Ms. Roxas-Dobrish, who after retirement worked briefly as a real-estate agent (“It was the most horrible feeling I ever felt”), now teaches at the Ailey School. By contrast, Ms. Wood, who uses her maiden name professionally, has truly been away. Retiring in 1985 after 13 years at Ailey, she moved to New Rochelle, married, had children. She was lured back, she said, because Mr. Chaya pointed out that her two sons had never seen her dance.

“For years I’ve focused on family, children and community,” she said. “I thought this would be a one-time thing, a chance for my children to see me perform.”

She went on a diet and increased her exercise regimen, and then took a big gulp and showed up for classes with members of the current company. She wore gym clothes and socks. “I am not putting on a leotard,” she said. (She has been cast in a section of the dance known as the “yellow” section, for the flowing dresses the dancers wear.) Still, she said, being in the building took her breath away.

Ms. Fisher-Harrell, who teaches at Towson University, has returned several times to the Ailey company since she retired, and still performs. She stays in great shape, and said that age — for a dancer, 43 counts as old — had its benefits.

“At a young age, you look at it physically: how can I do these steps, how can I bend back further, how my leg can go up higher?” she said. “But the older you get, the more you’re comfortable with yourself. I know where I stand and how I feel.”

Robert Battle, Ailey’s artistic director, said the dancers were of course being held to a high standard, but the spirit was just as important as relative perfection. “Maybe they might feel that they can’t do it exactly the way they did, but maybe that’s not the point,” he said. “The point is to be where they are.”

At the rehearsal the other day, the petite Ms. Roxas-Dobrish danced with her partner — Jamar Roberts, 6 feet 4 ¼ inches tall and 31 years old — for the first time. The “Fix Me, Jesus” portion is intimate and grueling, requiring the woman to push her body to extremes and put absolute trust in her partner.

Afterward she said she felt an immediate connection — “The dance just kind of flowed,” she said — but she worried that Mr. Roberts would feel he was “dancing with his grandma.”

Not at all, he said in a telephone interview. “I felt like I needed to be delicate, but not because I thought she was old, but because she really is a jewel,” he said. “She’s legendary. I didn’t want to do anything or say anything that would make it a bad experience for her.”

He said that before Ms. Roxas-Dobrish, he had never danced this piece with a partner who looked him directly in the eye.

“It wasn’t flirtatious, it felt a bit” — he paused — “wild, and it opened up a new dimension of the work to me that I want to explore. I was a little taken aback.”

The dancers said it was hard not to be wistful about the past when you are reminded of the person you once were. But while you give up some things as you grow older, so you gain others.

“Do I admire those bodies?” asked Ms. Wood, speaking of the young dancers in the current company. “Absolutely. But I know who I am.”

A version of this article appears in print on December 25, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: With Willing Spirit, a Reprise for Ailey Dancers.

Source: The New York Times