David Bruce: Dance Anecdotes

At Westside High School in Houston, Texas, educator Sharon Roberts uses hip-hop dance to keep students in school. This can be difficult. She says, “Working with the boys is like trying to put puppies in a box. You get four in, then one jumps out.” Ms. Roberts’ Inertia Dance Company wins — a lot — both in dance competitions and in life. In 2004, the Inertia Dance Company won the prestigious M.A. Dance Company’s National High School Dance Championships — and no student flunked out and all of the seniors graduated. Kirk Beecher, who was 18 years old in 2004, says, “The only reason I passed classes is because of dance. If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be happy — and I’d be on the street.” According to Ms. Roberts, “People see the dancing, but to me this is all life lessons. It’s about being successful when you leave.” Andres Flores, 23, who was in the first group of boys whom Roberts invited into her studio, gives this testimonial: “I grew up in Houston’s Third Ward, in the bad side of the neighborhood. People were always breaking into your house. My friends were in gangs. At Lamar High School, one of my friends was going to her dance studio, so I started going there. I started liking it. So every single day I started going to the after-school practices. Sharon’s no-pass, no-play policy motivated me to always pass. I was almost kicked out for smoking in the parking lot. But Sharon went and stood up for me and really helped me out. I’d always hung around with a bad crowd. Dancing got me away from that. Because of dance, my grades improved. Now I am actually the advanced hip-hop teacher at Lamar. That’s one of my biggest accomplishments. Dancing got me a long way in life. A long, long way.”

British dancer Sally Marie had to dance naked in Dear Body, a satire by Luca Silvestrini  of people obsessed with working out to make their body beautiful. Intellectually, she had no problem with this. She said, “I’d been arguing for ages that we needed a greater variety of bodies and ages in dance. It felt like an important statement to be on stage showing my tits.” In practice, she was terrified. She explained, “When you’re in a sauna, it feels completely natural. But on stage, you’re really exposed.” Also, in practice, she was many pounds lighter when she stripped off on stage. Why? She said, “I’d been too frightened to eat.” Ms. Marie does have good advice for anyone who will be dancing naked: “Try to avoid being naked in a photocall. Otherwise you will find pictures of yourself all over the national press and the internet. And they never go away. At run-throughs, keep your T-shirt on. It’s amazing how many extra ‘techs’ show up when they think there may be some tits on show.” When London-based choreographer Arthur Pita had to dance naked in his choreography of Camp after a cast member was injured, he immediately started doing squats and press-ups for a very good reason: vanity. He explained, “I really didn’t want anything to be wobbling for the audience.”

Balletomanes sometimes think that the life of ballet dancers and choreographers is glamorous, but it often isn’t. Early in ballerina Maria Tallchief’s career, she and other lowly paid ballet dancers often played “Ghosting,” aka “That Old Army Game.” One dancer would rent a room, then two other dancers would sneak in and stay there, too. One dancer would sleep on the bed, another on the box springs, and a third on the floor. Because of wartime conditions, however, rooms were not always available, and Ms. Tallchief once saw famed choreographer Agnes de Mille sleeping on a table in a hotel hallway.

Following a performance of Scotch Symphony, in which Maria Tallchief was tossed in the air and then caught by André Eglevsky, two great ballerinas—Alicia Markova and Alexandra “Choura” Danilova—visited her and complimented her backstage. However, Ms. Danilova had a piece of advice: “But, you know, dear, when you’re thrown in the air, back must be arched, head must be up high. Must be unconcerned.” Ms. Tallchief explained, “Well, yes, Choura, I know. I’m trying to be serene, but I’m scared to death André’s not going to catch me. Four of those boys are tossing me, and he’s got to catch me all by himself.”

One must suffer to have the experience to create a credible work of art about suffering. When Gus Solomons, Jr., was a young man, he choreographed his first dance and he put a lot of pain in it. The piece used percussive music, and Mr. Solomons pounded his bare-chested body, exhausting himself in the first three minutes of the dance. When he showed the dance to Murray Louis, Mr. Louis asked, “Gus, what was all that suffering about? What do you know about suffering?”

Creative people suffer ups and downs in their work, but sometimes a creation that at first is rejected is later recognized as a classic—and, of course, sometimes a creator will rework and improve an earlier creation. Someone said to choreographer George Balanchine, “Your last two or three ballets have not been very successful. What do you have to say about that?” Mr. Balanchine replied, “Give me some time, and maybe they’ll be masterpieces.”

Classical dancer Erik Bruhn used to hire a cleaner to come and do his housekeeping, but things did not always work out as planned. For one thing, he would pile his dirty dishes in the sink, but after a while, and before the cleaner came to wash the dishes, he would wash them himself. Why? Mr. Bruhn explains, “Because I can’t stand to see dirty dishes.”

When Anton Dolin first choreographed his “Doll Ballet,” lots of people came to him, requesting something special, such as a solo for a friend. He listened to them — as he says, “like a fool” — with the result that the ballet was very bad, and he had to re-choreograph it, with no special bits, but instead with all the dancers used en masse.

All women were very popular out west during pioneer days. When the first dance was held in Nevada City, California, 300 men showed up — and 12 women.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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