Wings of Influence
Dance teachers seem to be well aware of their potential to influence their students, both as developing dancers and maturing human beings. But there’s a theory called the “butterfly effect” that might be worth thinking about in terms of teaching dance.
The butterfly effect describes a phenomenon in chaos theory. Now, you don’t need to understand all the nitty-gritty about chaos theory to stick with me here; it’s enough to know that it’s part of the study of systems that are sensitive to initial conditions. What the butterfly effect describes is the fact that those initial conditions, sometimes as seemingly insignificant as the movement of a butterfly’s wings, have a huge effect on eventual outcomes. You see it all the time in science fiction stories, where someone goes back in time and changes (intentionally or inadvertently) the course of history by making something happen that otherwise wouldn’t have, or by preventing something from happening.
So you’re a butterfly. We all are, as humans, since we affect the lives of the people around us—children and other loved ones, certainly, but in the case of dance teachers, every student they come in contact with. How big an effect you have might seem to depend on how much time the students spend with you or how involved you are in their lives. And to an extent that’s true. But if you think about the definition of the butterfly effect, your influence might not be that simple to predict. And it’s certainly not always measurable. You might think that the shy 8-year-old who took class for three months and then disappeared would have gotten little from you—certainly not compared to that senior in high school you trained from the age of 3.
But there’s a good chance you’d be wrong. That 8-year-old could be forever changed, in ways you can’t even imagine, by her time in your school. She might have discovered the artist inside her (and that dance isn’t her outlet). Or gained self-confidence that allowed her to become a math whiz.
The takeaway here is that you can never really know what effect your wings have. All the more reason to flap them with care. —Cheryl Ossola, Editor in Chief
Land of Sweet Repeats
What is it about The Nutcracker? You’d think that after a lifetime I’d be sick of it. But like Fritz and trouble, I can’t seem to stay away, no matter how I think it would be better to spend my money on something I haven’t seen before. Perhaps to a score I haven’t memorized. Or with a scenario with a bit more cultural significance. But alas. When advertisements of sparkling-white ballerinas in snowstorms or nutcrackers with oversized heads start to pop up, I sigh in anticipation.
It doesn’t seem to matter who dances it. Boston Ballet’s production is grand and elegant and fun, creatively designed and with dancers-to-die-for. You have to love a ballet where mice chuck giant pieces of cheese at each other. (Oh my, what would Petipa think?) But I’m equally happy seeing a production by New Bedford Youth Ballet, with a much smaller budget, for sure, but danced in an equally grand spirit.
When I’m desperate, I’ll even settle for a Nutcracker on DVD. I can choose between Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s spectacular dancing, or Pacific Northwest Ballet’s imaginative Maurice Sendak setting, or George Balanchine’s roster of stars. I sit there alone (no one will watch with me—they think I’m crackers) and hum along, content that I’m celebrating the season with old friends.
Can anyone recall the first time they saw a Nutcracker? Perhaps someone dragged to the ballet as an adult and subsequently enchanted might remember, but for me, it was always part of the season—as predictable as presents under the tree or my annual Christmas Eve cold.
Do you know that in the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Marie and Drosselmeier’s nephew marry? “At the wedding, two and twenty thousand of the most brilliant figures adorned with pearls and diamonds danced, and Marie is believed to be still the queen of a country where sparkling Christmas woods, transparent marzipan castles, in short, the most wonderful things, can be seen if you have the right sort of eyes for it.”
Well, that explains everything! Apparently, I have the “right sort of eyes.” Hazel, with a hint of stardust. —Karen White, Associate Editor