Posts

peace ornament on tree

peace ornament on tree

Jai-Dee Dancewear is a sustainable leotard company celebrating the beauty, wisdom and value of women who dance. Our blog serves to inform, inspire and connect our community of socially conscious women in ballet and beyond. All hearts are welcome here.

Peace and joy go hand and hand. We wish you both as you continue through this holiday season. Today on our blog, we offer the gift of perspective from an extraordinary and beloved leader in the dance world.

With heart,

Sustainable leotards empowering women through ecofriendly clothing.

The Other Side of Nutcracker

by Sarah Wroth

At the Jacobs School of Music, where I am in my third year as a chair, artistic coordinator and member of the artistic staff, we have just wrapped up our weekend-long Nutcracker season. I have always loved Nutcracker. It has been a huge part of my holiday life, every year, for thirty years now. There are so many elements to the practice, rehearsal, story and atmosphere of this ballet that give me warm feelings of gratitude for the glorious joy my art can create. Now positioned on the directing side of things, my eyes are also open to all kinds of nuances that enrich my appreciation for the magic of Nutcracker.

Nutcracker offers a growth chart to its dancers. This ballet visits annually for most, and with its unchanging shape, it allows artists to stand as tall as they can to see if they have grown since the previous years’ experience. In lives built from artistic opportunities, the “who does what” each year is significant. As a dancer, I constantly felt the weight of casting in my life. As a leader, I feel not only its weight, but also the importance balancing that weight throughout the group.

Leading with understanding

Here at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, it is not a dictatorship. Our faculty tends to cast by committee and our process aims to hear everyone’s voice. It is not a perfect system. There is no perfect system, and there will always be someone who feels shortchanged. In my work, I try at all times to remember my experiences as a dancer. When casting goes up, I keep my door open. Anyone seeking to better understand casting or its process has the opportunity to connect. Sometimes expressed feelings are warranted and a learning experience or application for a bigger push is granted. Sometimes, casting sparks a difficult conversation about how certain levels of studio work or personal dedication are being perceived. Casting is a giant web of learning that has huge potential for positive reinforcement of work well done.

Sharing with appreciation

My life as an artistic leader has also helped me understand the many layers of human resources involved in making the Nutcracker story a success. As a dancer, it is so challenging to lay your heart on the stage for an audience forty times in a row, but at least there is a bow at the end of each show. In these concluding moments, the performing artists are celebrated and receive joyful appreciation from the audience. As an artistic leader, I also get to FEEL these joyful reactions floating around the packed houses for Nutcracker. I get to swim in the sentiments being created. This opportunity grants me an even greater understanding of what ballet is capable of and shows me the magnificent reactions good dance can create.

But, there are so many silent heroes behind the magic and hard work visible onstage. From wardrobe staff to parent volunteers, there are countless people working on the inside of the Nutcracker machine, often working a good distance away from the joy they are creating first hand. Every successful Nutcracker performance is a collective, coordinated effort. There is certainly enough applause to go around; we simply have to remember to share appreciation with those working beyond the stage and wings.

Refueling with inspiration

Whether you are an artist or artistic staff, if you are ever in need of inspiration during the Nutcracker, you only have to lower your gaze a bit and clamp eyes with an excited child. Children – both performing and attending – are everywhere in this show, so thirsty for all the magic it brings. The children onstage are bubbling with the excitement born from the responsibility of performing and joy of interacting with their heroes – dancers older and wiser than they are. The children in the audience also bubble with excitement, ready to experience the enduring magic of Nutcracker.

Whether you are old or young, just starting your ballet career or well on the other side of physicality, this ballet creates lasting memories and sensational experiences for all involved. Long live Nutcracker and its ability to bring new ballet understanding to ALL of us.

back of dancer standing with wheelchair in front of mirror with one arm lifted gazed shift up

back of dancer standing with wheelchair in front of mirror with one arm lifted gazed shift up

Credit: Abilities Dance Boston

Jai-Dee Dancewear is a sustainable leotard company celebrating the beauty, wisdom and value of women who dance. Our blog serves to inform, inspire and connect our community of socially conscious women in ballet and beyond. All hearts are welcome here.

Through ballet, many of us find permission to be wholly ourselves. Yet we also discover expectations and barriers in ballet that deny that very wholeness. By striving to embody various artform “ideals” at all costs, I myself have been complicit in upholding these barriers. Such striving harmed my body and limited my dance career, yes, but it’s the wider impact of such conformity that matters. As a white, small, able-bodied, cisgendered female, I often failed to use points of privilege to help “disrupt antiquated ableist beliefs and disseminate the value of inclusion through dance.”

Each of us decide what dance is, who it is for and why it is beautiful. Collectively, I believe we can bring far more belonging into dance. Instead of simply striving to squeeze ourselves into the shape of a dancer, perhaps we strive to reshape dance itself.

Today’s guest, Ellice Patterson of Abilities Dance Boston, is doing just that. You can join the movement by supporting their work HERE.

With heart,

Sustainable leotards empowering women through ecofriendly clothing.

Perspective on…

by Ellice Patterson

harmful norms

Most don’t realize there are harmful aspects of this art form that narrowly define what it means to be a professional dancer. Once we start having conversations at the director level and widening that narrow range to allow for diverse talent to flow through the space, we will be well on our way to a more equitable industry.

body ownership

Dancers can take ownership of their bodies and their stories by first being true to their bodies’ range of motion through open communication with their choreographers. If a choreographer imposes some big movement that they might not be able to safely execute, they must let the choreographer know. It will look better to modify, keep the dancer safe and support a longer career.

empowering oneself

I believe to empower oneself in the dance world is to constantly take class and work on technique, strengthening and conditioning the body. Harmful body image, pressure to go beyond limits and the impulse to mask true identities all fade away when honing one’s craft and not just striving to be “the best.” We can empower ourselves by focusing on what really matters – technique, emotional connection to the piece and the audience, strengthening connection with your partner, and more.

creating inclusive community

I wish community members would ask, “Who do we think of when we think of disability? What does it mean to be a working dancer? Who does that look like? How can we value diverse identities without falling into stereotypes?”

We begin with dance educators welcoming diverse identities and bodies to grow in the studio. This means  making sure rehearsal spaces are accessible. We modify technique and expand the definition of certain movements. We teach both the traditional female and male form of ballet in class. By allowing the safe expression and development of dancers, the next generation of dancers (and next generation in general) feel better represented.

leadership

Dance leaders should think about who is dancing and choreographing in their companies. A strong company has different ethnicities, genders, disabilities and life experiences in their dancers and choreographers. Choreographers should be allowed to tell stories that are authentic to them and their experience. Same sex love stories, racism, current political events that resonate with their identities, and more, should be told (editor note here: one stunning example of this in action is James Whiteside’s New American Romance)

Within my company, there is a basic framework that choreographers follow for different access points within our show. Outside of that, my only requirement is strong story-telling and that dancers are dancing at their fullest capacity (which looks very different yet still beautiful dancer to dancer).

I think there is a small growing movement of small companies and independent choreographers working to express different racial, gender, and sexuality identities in their dancers and pieces they create. There are still not a lot of companies outside of ours working to train and promote professional disabled dancers within other companies. For that, there needs to be a new framework of entry into companies that takes into account the whole dancer instead of relying on a narrow set of audition protocols.

collective support

Having to constantly prove why my body matters on stage and in leadership has taken a toil. I’m just now starting to put myself first. I put on loud early ’00s R&B and dance around in my bedroom. I make sure my body is nourished with good food. Talking with my community helps me regain strength and keep fighting.

You can support our efforts by following the work we’re doing at our website and through social media @abilitiesdanceboston. We welcome any questions on what we do, how to be a respectful audience and ways to consume the work. We’re always happy to promote inclusion with our community!