Ballet – How it Shaped Me

10 03 2015

I started acting when it became clear to me that ballet would NOT be the career choice for me. I liked eating far too much, and I despise throwing up. This is not to say that ballerinas are bulimic, but IS to say that even at 7 years old, my ballet teachers would not have had a problem with a child taking laxatives, vomiting, restricting eating – anything to weigh less. Which, if you think about it, is a bizarre thing to demand of a child. Had I ever told my mother about the verbal abuse I endured at the hands of my instructors, I know she would have intervened, and possibly pulled me out of the ballet school. Which is why I never told her about it.

What I loved about dance, was capturing the nuances in the music, and the absolute precision of TIMING required, and how it varied from piece to piece, and from measure to measure. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family with two musicians as parents – one a classical oboist and pianist, one a jazz trombonist and pianist. My childhood was filled with Stravinsky’s Petrushka and The Firebird, Ralph Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Sarah Vaughn’s soul-stopping voice (my favorite), Bill Evans’ wizardly piano works, and all manner of music in between. At the time, I didn’t realize how extraordinary it was to be listening to Thelonius Monk as a child. I didn’t comprehend the influence listening to my father compose late into the night would have on my future profession. I did, however, know that music moved me in very particular ways, in ways my body could not help responding to.

Although my ballet teachers were singularly cruel in their judgement of tiny bodies, they were some of the best teachers in New Orleans, and eventually I grew to love the discipline of ballet. The predictability of barre, center, adagio, and allegro. I loved the jumps, but I also adored the adagio. Taking the entire phrase to move to the next position, and landing fluidly, just at… the… last… moment… Tension and grace combining, in response to the music (the SCRIPT)… it’s is what makes art most compelling.

Once it became clear that I was a good dancer, but not a great one, and that I was far from the right body type for ballet, I began to try to find another means to express the emotion inside. Theatre found me, in the form of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF around age 10. Although I didn’t like, and STILL do not like, the fluttering heart I experience (YES I STILL experience!) when the curtain rises, or I walk on camera, I loved being able to tell a story. This time not just with my body. But with my VOICE.

More later….


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