“Think a lot. Do more.” Five simple words, offered to a group of young women on the penultimate day of Art’s Umbrella’s three-week International Summer Dance Intensive, that perfectly describe the challenge of transitioning from student to professional dancer. As a young artist, I’ve often found myself stuck in my head, over-analyzing the infinite corrections, images, and ideas offered by wise and loving teachers with the best of intentions. But here’s the thing: you can think as hard as you want about your psoas elongating, or the tripods of your feet growing roots deep into the ground below you, but none of it means anything if you don’t feel it physically! The harsh reality is that feeling is harder. Doing is more work. But here’s another thing: to paraphrase the comedian Amy Poehler, “Thinking about the thing isn’t the thing. Doing the thing is the thing.” There is no question that over the course of the program we, twenty-seven ladies on the verge of our careers as professional dancers, did the thing. And in doing, in pushing our bodies to move in ways that they had never moved before, we were forced out of the comfort of our heads.
Right there to meet us at the edge of Comfort was Fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of getting hurt. Another inimitable Amy, Amy Raymond, could see it in our eyes one day and she reminded us that we had a choice, because the Fear wasn’t going to be going anywhere anytime soon…or ever. We could either stand back from it our entire lives, or we could walk right up, meet Fear face to face, and push it back, and back, and back again. In that moment I committed to an experiment: How many times can I scare myself within a given combination? Can I go so far that I risk falling over? And from there, can I use my training to make sure that I don’t actually fall?
I found that I began to feel in a way that I had never felt before. I had to increase my sensitivity and physical awareness in order to balance risk and excitement with clarity and communication. This was true across the board; dance is dance is dance is dance. From Forsythe rep to release technique, to ballet class to Mats Ek rep, the more risk I took, the more accurately I fulfilled the dynamic and depth of the movement, the more connected I felt to my technique and my artistry. I felt like a professional dancer, a dance artist.
And here is where thought makes a triumphant return. We must think about what it means to be young artists. We must think about why we come into the studio to create. We must think about why we choose to get onstage and share what we create with audiences who may or may not like or understand that which we offer them. The reason that we are the ones dancing is that we, by fate, fortune, and hard work, have the ability to think deeply, and translate that thought into physical sensation.
Therein lies the magic. For three weeks we were lucky enough to be pushed so hard that we really had no choice other than to sit in the light of that magic. We witnessed it in our teachers, each and every one of them a shining example of a thinker who does more, and we witnessed it in the beautiful artists of Ballet BC who generously shared their gifts with us in the most intimate of settings. But most importantly, we witnessed it in one another and ourselves. We relaxed into Fear, we transformed, and emerged one step closer to becoming the artists we were meant to become.
Written by Alexandra Eliot, 21, Juillard BFA