The narrator celebrates the beauty of ballet
Since I was three years old, ballet has played a huge role in creating and shaping my life. Looking back about ten years, I can see it has made me a more emotionally aware person. I don’t have much to say about starting ballet. It was mostly a parental decision around the time I was getting pretty skilled at walking. But it was a good move on their part. I’m a normal person, not too shy, not too loud. I’m just right. And I think that’s because of the power of ballet, whether I understood it or not when I started. All I knew was it was fun and I felt happy, excited, and like I was celebrating something when I did it.
That’s what ballet is really all about—celebration and emotionally significant events. Ballet began in the early fifteenth century as a way to convey the emotions of things like weddings and celebrations. To dance is to express deep or strong emotions, and ballet is the best of all dance forms (in my opinion) for doing that.
Although ballet has become more formal since it began, its purpose—to help people express their emotional, celebratory, and spiritual feelings—remains the same. I certainly celebrate when I dance, but ballet has also taught me the importance of other emotional expressions. It’s also helped me get in touch with myself when I’m feeling something I don’t have the words for. If I’m sad but happy, or frustrated and angry, or feeling overwhelmed or excited, I can dance. I don’t have to find someone else to listen to me. I don’t have to have a friend or partner or teammate to go to. I can dance alone. I can do ballet in a gym, a field, on the sidewalk, in my room, or the kitchen as well as on a stage. Ballet requires no special equipment, balls, goals, or nets. Ballet only requires a heart and emotions of any sort that need to be expressed.
When I am happy, my movements are sharp and bright, and when I am sad, my movements are slower and low-spirited.
Some emotions can’t be expressed with words, and ballet enables me to tell a story without words. It allows me to express small feelings or large ones, complex or simple feelings. Ballet is for communicating something for which no words exist in any language. Driven by my emotions, ballet physically captures the complex thoughts that live in my head and provides a way for them to escape, to communicate so others can see and feel them too.
Although a person’s facial expressions hint at a speaker’s true thoughts or feelings, ballet involves the entire body! I’ve learned that my body—from my hands to my legs and head—gives away what I am feeling through the way that I move. When I dance, I am exposed, vulnerable, open to anyone who watches; even if they know nothing about ballet, they know about emotions, and ballet touches them and they know better what I am feeling. I love that.
When I am happy, my movements are sharp and bright, and when I am sad, my movements are slower and low-spirited. When I am anxious or upset, my performance suffers because my movements lack emotion. An audience sees that, and we are bound, if only for the length of the performance, by our shared feelings. We remain strangers, yet we become very intimate at the same time. Unlike many stage performances—acting, music, or comedy—only ballet reaches out and involves the audience in the performer’s emotional state. It’s very personal.
Yes, music can strongly impact an audience, but the listeners are responding to the instrument and the sound, not the person playing it so much—unless it’s a solo performance. Music as a part of ballet is more powerful. It has a huge role to play in a ballet performance by directly influencing the tone and thereby our (the dancer’s) emotions and the audience’s feelings as well. In performances like The Nutcracker, for instance, I have learned the importance of connecting with the audience by embodying the emotions present in the music. When the music is more upbeat, I am inclined to make happier movements. When it is “legato,” or smoothly connected, my movements follow suit, smoothing and connecting in tandem with this quality.
This allows me to really get into my character and capture the attention of the audience. They respond to the music, but even more to my movements. The combination of music and movement doubles the power of the story.
Because the emotions are genuinely felt as a result of the musical influence, my performance feels more authentic, and an audience can sense this and embrace it as well if they choose to. We connect deeply on an emotional level. We are not trapped in the mental world of words but in the world of fears, hopes, dreams, emotions, and deep yearning or celebration. We “flow” through the story on an emotional level.
Like words, physical movement is a way of communicating our experience. Ballet, with its strong emotional and visual power, allows the audience to not only understand its characters better but to empathize with them, and to better visualize things—as though they were seeing the sunset and feeling the air cool as the rays of the sun grew fainter. As my ballet teacher always says, “With expression comes connection.” Her mantra reminds me of the importance of real expression as a means of connecting with my audience.
Through ballet, I have learned a lot about what it means to really perform, to give all of one’s true self and feelings. Ballet, at its purest, is performers expressing their genuine emotions and wholeheartedly becoming their respective characters. Ballet is authentic. Over the years, I’ve learned that ballet is much more than just mastering delicate technical movements and choreographies. An expert performance means my every movement conveys true emotion, so that my audience can interpret and experience the story too. That attention to authenticity as a ballet dancer has made me a more authentic person as well, more aware of my own emotions and feelings, as well as how I express them. I don’t think I can separate emotion from movement anymore. They are connected— from the simple movements we make cooking, hugging, walking, or getting out of bed to the complex moves we make when we’re happy or sad, celebrating or grieving. Life, at its best and purest form, is dance, and the most expressive form of dance is, in my opinion, ballet.