The walls of my childhood ballet studio were decorated with several posters by Harvey Edwards, including one close-up of a man doing a détiré en avant, sweat beaded on his face and hair. The caption: “Dance is work.” Eddie Ares’s studio offers this quotation on its website: “Dancers are the athletes of God.” Even for casual social dancers, ballroom dancing is widely touted as an enjoyable way to get some exercise.
On the other hand, a fair amount of current dance marketing emphasizes the beauty and glamour of dance over its atheticism. Ballet studios offer “princess camp” or “a visit to Fairyland” summer programs for little girls. A ballroom studio in Laguna Hills, CA offers “personal instruction and an elegant air. There are fresh roses on the tables and sliced strawberries in the water” (full article here). The studio hopes to distinguish itself and succeed in a difficult economy by presenting itself as a luxury service provider.
Reading the article, I immediately wondered if the strategy would work. I also wondered if it should work. The athleticism of dance is, for me, one of its signal attributes and one of the main things that draws me to it. Will the little girls who sign up for the visit to Fairyland be disillusioned when they are expected to stand quietly at the barre and follow instructions? Could new dancers be surprised when they discover that the roses on the tables might be flecked with beads of their sweat at the end of an hour-long lesson?
I love a good workout and I’m always proud to be sweating and sore when my lesson is over. Do dancers respond more to a physical challenge or to the promise of grace and elegance? What about people who don’t know yet that they are dancers? It’s by no means an either/or question; the two qualities reinforce one another. But I wonder how other dancers see their dancing. I appreciate the aesthetic aspect but I think I am really addicted to the physical demands and challenges. Of course, those demands and challenges exist in the service of creating a certain look, and I know I’ve met the challenge when I have the look.
I am going in circles here. Which reminds me that I need to practice my spiral turns for cha-cha during tonight’s break between classes.