It’s All a Blur
Once upon a time, I enjoyed watching dance. From recital queens to big-name ballerinas, amateur troupes to Ailey masters, it didn’t matter—if someone was willing to move her body to music, I enjoyed it.
I loved dance as much as I hated math. And therein lies the source of my recent discontent.
Today, I’ll be blissfully watching a performance, lost in the mood and the moment, when suddenly the dancer sets her prep for a turn and bam!—like an old jalopy shifting gears, my brain jerks, and suddenly I feel the need to keep count: “onetwothreefourfivesix . . .”
If the dancer is good, my brain might go something like this: “one, two, onetwothree; two, two, twotwothree; three, two, threetwothree . . .” Or the turn will evolve—passé to à la seconde to attitude—and while those switches might be smooth as silk, my brain will stumble, and then I’m irritated that I lost count and now have no idea how many turns he actually hit.
This is a real problem! I’m happy that dancers today are so technically pumped that they turn like furious tops. It must be magnificent to feel the wind whip by as you triumph over centrifugal force and reasonable human limitations; but for me—sitting, watching, stewing—multiple turns mean turmoil.
When did this happen? It was during my lifetime that Mikhail Baryshnikov won 11 rubles from Gregory Hines for such a display, in White Nights. “It’s impossible,” Misha said before spinning 11 times and doing a funky victory dance. If the usher sweeping up had looked at me, exiting with my mouth agape, and said, “You know, someday kids in dance schools will be spinning like that,” I would have thrown my popcorn at him.
But they do. Double pirouettes? That’s so 1975. Triples? Really? If my tally stops at three, my brain does a little sniff—“Is that all ya got?” But too many turns, and I’m dizzy.
I guess I have to deal with it. Maybe when I see a prep, I’ll shield my eyes, like I already do when legs are pulled past necks. Ooooh—freaky. —Karen White
Looking Out, Not Looking In
The movie Boyhood is a fictional depiction of a boy, Mason, and his family as they traverse 12 years of his childhood. Remarkably, the film was shot over the course of 12 actual years, allowing us to observe time passing for the characters while the actors mature in real time.
The movie both tells the boy’s story and comments upon how we—more and more, and aided by technology—endlessly record our own lives and put them on display for public consumption. In effect, we are inviting the world to watch our movies.
Over the course of the film, Mason becomes a photographer, one who stubbornly resists embracing digital techniques, and who, rather than using his camera to solipsistically document his life (as most of us do), uses it to help him see and understand the world outside himself.
Toward the end of the movie, he announces that he’s going offline—basically disinviting others from viewing the movie that is his life.
Performing artists, naturally, must consider what the world sees. We train dancers to be onstage, to perfect their bodies, technique, performing personas—to, in essence, shape and curate what and how others see them. But we need to help students remember that not all of life is lived onstage.
It is important to remind them to do what the fictional Mason has done: turn their gaze outward and ask, “How do I see the world?” rather than, always, “How does the world see me?” Dancers, like all artists, need to explore and examine the unfamiliar, tilt their heads and look at things a little differently, ask and attempt to answer difficult questions. Then they’ll have something to say onstage and off, besides “Look at me!” They’ll have something to dance about. —Lisa Okuhn
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.
DSL associate editor Lisa Okuhn is a writer and a former dancer with Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians, ODC/Dance, and others. She founded arts-focused Okuhn Public Relations.