Each of us has a unique body. Some things come naturally while other things are difficult. Training helps us expand our range of motion and sharpen our coordination so that we can release our expressive power. But it is not the body alone that becomes a dancer. It is the body, mind, and spirit working together.
Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Marie-Agnès Gillot had to learn to manage what she calls her “monkey arms” and “grasshopper legs” over time. Now her unique body is capable of expressing extreme states. When I saw her dance in Houston’s Dance Salad festival a couple of years ago, she reached a glorious level of ecstasy in a duet from Carolyn Carlson’s contemporary ballet Signes. In “The Bold and the Beautiful,” Karyn Bauer talks to Gillot about the mental strength and spiritual fortitude necessary to reach that peak of expressivity. She had developed her own methods of surviving the strict regimen of the POB school—not to mention her painful scoliosis. As one of 17 étoiles at Paris Opéra Ballet, she’ll shine brightly (or darkly, considering some of her roles) when the famous French company tours the United States this summer.
The body changes over the years, but in what ways? And how can your mind and spirit address these changes? In “Listening to Your Body” Kathleen McGuire follows a different dancer for each of five decades of life, starting with a teenager. We also get the wisdom of Megan Richardson, a staff trainer at Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. She helps us understand what’s going on in our bodies as we pay attention to these changes.
Physical therapists who work with dancers can see all the self-destructive habits that are hard to break. In “What Are They Doing Wrong?” three of them talk about the biggest mistakes dancers tend to make. Sure, you know not to force your turnout, or to do “passive stretching” before class, but you’ll find some surprising other no-nos here.
As long as this is the body issue, I want to steer you to the “Why I Choreograph.” Seattle dance artist Amy O’Neal talks about transforming the fear of her own body into a more positive feeling that allowed her to create a bold hybrid of hip-hop, ballet, and modern.
Photo by Matthew Karas.