Ananya Chatterjea in Mohona: Estuaries of Desire. Paul Virtucio, Courtesy Ananya Dance Theatre

"Dance Allows Me to Touch the Deepest of Human Sorrows and Joys"

I often think I came to dance because it was the accumulated desire of generations. I heard stories that my grandmother, whom I never met, loved dance but held that secret close to her heart. A generation later, my mother found dancing magical, but growing up in a large, joint family at a time when India was rocked by the anti-colonial independence movement denied her opportunities to train. When I was born, my parents struggled to afford for me to dance. But despite economic barriers, I was determined to journey in it.

The gifts of dance practice are many: Precision, discipline, patience and humility are often talked about. Yet, if dancing were to be all about holding sculpturesque balances forever, or executing fast footwork, it would be difficult to sustain over the years. As a social-justice choreographer, I dance because it allows me to touch, metaphorically, the deepest of human sorrows and joys, to articulate often overlooked stories from global communities of women of color. For instance, when I dance in memory of 8-year-old Asifa Bano, brutally murdered in Kashmir in 2018, every cell of my body reverberates with her pain and enables me to hold up her story to light. At those moments, when I am most deeply inside my body, dancing expands my spirit, and I receive its greatest gift: to be connected to energies larger than myself, to the humanity I share with others.

Chatterjea in Mohona: Estuaries of Desire.

Paul Virtucio, Courtesy Ananya Dance Theatre

Dancing's demands have kept me humble. I have failed, I have sustained injuries, and I have learned to never take it for granted. My life has been about dancing at the crossroads of classical line and the passionate articulation of community organizing and justice advocacy. From my gurus and teachers, I have learned meticulous attention to detail in craft, and the rigor necessary to transform technique into artistry. From the community activists, who organized daily performances of street theater, I learned to cultivate energetic presence, bring urgency to every gesture and engage audiences with my gaze. To track all of this complexity while dancing means I have to be 100 percent present. And I thank dancing for this challenge, and for giving me the experience of being alive at every nerve ending.

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

December 2020