Where were you on October 1? If you’re a ballet lover, you were probably glued to your computer, watching live feeds from five world-class companies: Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet, The Australian Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, and San Francisco Ballet.
This was a big deal, and unprecedented. One reason it was momentous is that ballet has a reputation for being aloof and elite, and this event made strides toward dispelling that perception. Major companies don’t open their doors to the public very often, but it’s not because they’re unfriendly; they’re big organizations on tight schedules that are as carefully choreographed as the dances they do. And dancers and choreographers, like students, need privacy to experiment, learn, create, start over, try again, and achieve.
For ballet lovers, the chance to spend 20 hours gazing into the inner workings of squeal-worthy companies was, to judge by the comments on YouTube, a rare gift. Many people vowed to get back to class. Teachers said they’d skip class the next day and show the videos to their students instead. (Portions are on YouTube.) Remarks like “OMG this day has been perfect!” and “This music and choreography are breathtaking,” and “I have chills!” dominated the feeds. Viewer after viewer wished World Ballet Day would happen every year, or every day.
The heightened emotional pitch of the day left me exhausted, not because of its length, and not because of the dancing, but because of the emotional responses of the ballet lovers who watched in awe, blown away and grateful.
The days of ballet’s mystique, when the glamour of a hinted-at private life amped up a dancer’s image (think Rudolf Nureyev, Gelsey Kirkland, or Patrick Bissell), are long gone. Today top dancers have Instagram and Twitter accounts; we know what they had for breakfast and what they carry in their dance bags. There are few secrets—so let’s use that fact to ballet’s advantage. Open the doors. Shout, “I love ballet!” to the world, then invite the world in to love it along with you. —Cheryl A. Ossola
Two Lumps, Please
The words were out, and there was no taking them back. And three feet in front of me, two blue eyes were filling with tears.
This was one of those memorable teaching moments where you, not your students, learn a hard lesson. Over many years in the classroom I have made many mistakes, such as allowing one bad apple to become a bunch, or believing a bored underachiever would kick into gear if placed at the tip of the V. I recall standing in the wings at recital, horrified, as my class fumbled in vain through the kickline I had insisted on keeping in. A backstage mother patted me on the back. “They can’t all be winners,” she sighed.
The lost opportunities, the impatient snaps, the troubled kid you couldn’t figure out. Pushing too hard when you should have stepped back. Speaking up. Staying silent.
On this day, my team of juniors gathered in anticipation as I announced their competition entry: an adorable song from the musical ELF. I chatted breathlessly about the concept, the hard-but-satisfying rehearsals ahead, the costumes and choreography. I was on a roll—that is, until those tears arrived.
Hope, a fourth-grade peanut with perfect technique, spoke, lips trembling: “What do you mean Santa isn’t real?”
No one breathed. Then the other girls, older or more worldly, jumped in to offer comfort through hugs and stories of how they “found out.” I mumbled some disjointed thoughts about how the spirit of Santa lives in us all and segued back into the lesson. An email the next day—“Hope won’t be participating in musical theater this year”—didn’t mention crushed childhood dreams or broken hearts, but the damage was done and I was to blame.
Santa, wherever you are, don’t trouble yourself on my account this Christmas. I’ve got the coal right here. —Karen White
DSL editor in chief Cheryl A. Ossola is a former Dance Magazine associate editor and a freelance writer for San Francisco Ballet. She holds an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco.
DSL associate editor Karen White, a former newspaper reporter and freelance writer, has taught dance in private studios and choreographed musicals since age 17 and has no plans to stop.