July 2015 | EditorSpeak

Photo by Chris Hardy

Photo by Chris Hardy

Balance: Beyond the Classroom

Last March I was watching Yannick Boquin teach a batterie class for teenage boys at San Francisco Ballet School when what he was saying seemed, to me, to gain meaning beyond the confines of the classroom. (Boquin was guest teaching there; you’ll hear more about him in an upcoming story.) He was pointing out the need for a connection between arm and leg, the two limbs working in tandem—a form of synergy, if you will.

Those aren’t Boquin’s words; they’re mine. But this simple fact—that a left arm in high fifth must actively oppose the right leg in attitude—is a good illustration of how attending to opposing forces helps to create a balanced whole. Boquin was describing the concept of wholeness as opposed to isolation, of how cohesiveness gives us strength and balance. That’s as true in the workplace, in personal relationships, and in our perceptions of ourselves as it is in a ballet studio. Problems arise when we forget about the whole entity and focus on one thing to the exclusion of another.

Of course, challenging our bodies and brains in such a high-functioning way—for example, forcing ourselves to think about the line and movement of a lifted arm as well as how it functions in the context of the body’s movement as a whole—requires confidence. Confidence makes the difficult possible, even though it might not be quite correct. Without confidence, those formidable combinations of glissades, turns in second, cabrioles, assemblés, and sauts de basque the boys were doing would have been mushy, wobbly, incomplete. Yes, Boquin’s corrections helped the boys succeed, but he couldn’t make those changes happen for them. Applying a correction successfully, at least at times, means refusing to admit to limitations. Call it naiveté, brashness, faith, or simply determination—persisting in this kind of forward movement despite adversity is necessary in order to learn what we’re capable of.

With age and experience, however, we learn that we do have limitations. These boys, sweating and attentive and eager to make a life in dance, will discover that. Their paths through ballet training and beyond will not be identical, even though their aspirations are probably similar. Yet they, and we, need to have the confidence to try whatever it is we desire, because only then will we learn about our limitations. Some we will overcome, some we will not; either way, they teach us about ourselves and help us make choices.

I don’t subscribe to today’s popular belief that any one of us can do anything if we think positively, try hard enough, or want it badly enough. None of us will succeed in everything we attempt, and some of us will fail to achieve or gain things we want desperately. You might call that attitude pessimism; I call it realism.

What I do believe in is this: striving for wholeness and balance in every aspect of life. When we do that, we learn where to focus our self-confidence so that it yields the greatest results. If you’re like me, working toward wholeness and balance is an ongoing process, difficult to master. But I’ll keep striving for both.

Here’s an image that might help next time you’re feeling frazzled and uncertain: a long-limbed, beautifully turned-out dancer, on pointe or high in relevé in a perfectly balanced attitude, the mind and every part of the body working toward one goal. Now imagine that dancer is you. —Cheryl A. Ossola


DSL editor in chief Cheryl A. Ossola, a former associate editor at Dance Magazine, is a freelance writer for San Francisco Ballet and a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. She holds an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco.