Recipe for a Better World
On page 146 of this issue, you’ll find a story about the DanceLife Teacher Conference in which we tell you about many of the goings-on at this big event—but there’s one thing we didn’t touch on because it bears separate mention. It’s the joy and abandon, the sweat and exhilaration of the hundreds of dance teachers who threw themselves into all kinds of technique classes. True, there wasn’t much abandon to be seen among the brave souls doing the “this may destroy you” exercises and combinations in Roni Mahler’s and Bruce Marks’ ballet classes—lots of sweat, though, and determination.
For those of us on the sidelines, the classes were torture—watching the joyful smiles in Scott Fowler’s Broadway jazz class, the tipping of hats during a strut or a kick ball change, when I longed to join them. People oozing through Derrick Schrader’s juicy contemporary warm-up while I took inventory of the knots in my hamstrings, the cricks in my neck and back. Dancing elbow to elbow, the teacher/dancers hung in when the two Joes, Lanteri and Tremaine, set killer combos—and made no apologies. Maybe some of the dancers did one turn instead of two, maybe their kicks were understated; it didn’t matter. They danced. And they glowed.
I ached to be one of them, but observing had its rewards. There’s something thrilling about watching a large group of people—in this case, largely strangers—doing movement in unison. That manifestation of unity—of bodies in motion, yes, but also of purpose and desire and joy—has power, and it seems to say something about our potential as a species. Suppose someone gave each person in the world—all nationalities, races, ages, genders—a bowler hat, cued a magical, universal orchestra, and shouted, “Five, six, seven, eight!” Everyone dancing together, for themselves and for one another. I like to think war, racism, intolerance, and cruelty would fade away, because no one would be able to do anything but smile. —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.
It’s 2015, and our culture still conditions young girls to grow up believing men should be strong and women should be pretty. Misty Copeland’s sinewy leaps, Katniss Everdeen’s archery feats, Title IX, Michelle Obama’s arms, and critical best-sellers like The Princess Problem and Reviving Ophelia haven’t yet washed away mainstream expectations that femininity requires physical weakness.
If you teach girls to dance, you know that isn’t true. But do the girls?
We know introducing kids early to dance or sports encourages lifelong good health. Crucially for girls, it also encourages physical confidence—helping to guard them, I believe, from insidious cultural messages telling them they are weaker than boys, and that only skinny, pretty women in teetering heels can be powerful.
I was a strong and agile girl—a dancer, gymnast, tree climber—and it made me feel like a powerful person. The calluses on my palms and the power in my legs told me I could keep up with the boys. In my teens, I agonized (of course) over being pretty but stayed active and never lost my childish strength. The ability to dance on pointe or whip out an aerial always felt like a secret super power; even today, knowing I can still walk on my hands makes me feel a little freer, stronger, and taller.
Now I’m the mother of a confident 6-year-old, and I’m looking ahead. When she’s 16, will she have the upper-body strength to lift her own weight? Will she delight in running, climbing, and dancing? Will she stand straight and look boys in the eye? I hope so, and I think sticking with dance—or gymnastics, or soccer—is key.
I hope that as dance teachers you take pride in the experience of joyous physical mastery you’re giving the girls you teach. It isn’t about tricks versus artistry. Let your dancers exult in their strength and agility. Celebrate their power to leap, spin, run, fall, lift, and stand tall. You’re helping to mold the mighty women of tomorrow. —Tamsin Nutter
DSL associate editor Tamsin Nutter, now based in Berkeley, California, trained at Vassar College and The Ailey School, danced with Regina Nejman & Company and others, and has been a marketing writer at MoMA.