Dance as a profession

If from the beginning, the stage frightens you, then a great deal of thought must go into whether you are built, to put it in one sense, for this kind of life

It takes a very long time to become a seasoned performer, some never achieve it. Being on the stage is akin to an affliction, a disease. Some can be cured, some will never find their way out of it. There is no medication. There can be a shrink who will lead you out of it, but even they will not be able to fathom the process that takes you into the affliction. It is once more that statement that says “some will be born with it, some will never achieve it”

There is a certain truth in the Shakespeare quote “all the worldís a stage”, for we all have some of that show off , showmanship element in us, but being able to carry it forward in to a profession is quite another matter.

Aggressive people are not always the right candidates, for that nature in their personality is often just a ploy. It can cover a multitude of hidden fears.

Dancers can be outwardly aggressive, in their daily life, and even in rehearsals, but once in the real situation they either collapse, or just become mechanical beings.

Many technical monsters, as we tended to call them, were and are, boring as hell on stage.

They think in technical terms, not theatrical terms.

What then is a theatrical sense?

Transferring ideas to an audience. To put it bluntly, entertaining people.

If you do not entertain your audience, forget it.

Do not misconstrue that word entertain as meaning all smiles and something to move your feet too. To quote one aspect “to hold the attention of, pleasantly or agreeably”. Hold the attention of, is the crux of the matter. In other words, the viewers want to watch you, you can hold their attention. So in truth it does not matter what emotion you may be transferring, so long as the audience wants to keep watching you, is the important ingredient.

As I have put it so many times. You get the audience in the palm of your hand and say to them “watch me!”

That is my argument for looking at the audience straight in the eye.

In order to carry through with that attitude on stage, you must make preparations prior to the curtain being up.

There must always be a time, prior to appearing, when you create that magic. It can be as you do your warm up, it can be be done as you put your makeup on, but, there must be that time when you get yourself ready to perform.

Experience can make those preparation times shorter, but they must be there.

If you rush from civilian life into stage life on any given day, something will not work properly. Getting in the mood is not enough.

The rehearsal period must be used to full advantage. You have to soak your mind and body in the work at hand. Find all of the pitfalls that you can, there will be enough of those that are unexpected later on.

Your interaction with your fellow dancer or dancers , must be rehearsed along with the rest. When crunch time comes, you must be able to second-guess your fellow travellers.

I remember working with a ballerina who presented the picture of total confidence. Nothing bothered her, until, that night when her first performance came, of the four acts of Swan Lake. Before our entrance in the second act, which was to do the second act pas de deux, she fell apart. We were to do a one hand sitting lift for our entrance. She froze. I said something to her, using an oft used word, that is considered crude. In fact I said” Get on the Fucking Stage!” She was shocked, and started to cry, but it did the trick. We did the lift, and the pas de deux that followed.

After the final curtain of act four, she thanked me profusely.

Whatever works is the operative.

Natalia Makarova came to the West, to dance the more contemporary repertoire. In the Royal Ballet she found a good mix of the familiar and the new.

She was scheduled to learn and perform “Serenade” by Balanchine.

Rehearsals were difficult. She could not remember the choreography. I was working with her.

On a few occasions I lost my temper with her, during rehearsals, but we always managed to straighten things out.

Her first performance arrived.

I was in my dressing room at Covent Garden getting ready for Serenade.

There was a knock at the dressing room door. I opened it, Natasha was standing there in her dressing gown.

“Can I help you Natasha”

“Please David, please do not lose your temper with me tonight!”

“Of course Natasha, If you forget something, I will help you. But what is wrong Natasha?”

“I am terrified David!”

It made the relationship between Natasha and I, better. This big Russian Ballerina had admitted that she was nervous, and asked for help.

The performance went very well by the way.

Thus, no matter what the level, there can be that nervous moment, but it can be a help, rather than be a hindrance.

Terry Westmoreland, a teacher, now deceased, used to say during class, “pump the blood, make it flow” in other words, use some effort, perhaps more than you usually do. That image was sufficient.

I know that in the classics, after the pas de deux, when I was getting ready for the solo, I would mentally give myself a jolt. Breath slowly and evenly, then give it the Karate chop. From out of nowhere, came that energy I needed. The process never failed me, but I needed that total concentration.

Relaxation before effort, I guess I could say, is the secret.

Tension before effort, takes the energy away.

There is always some of the Stanislavski school in each performance. You become your character.

Each part, even if there is not an obvious plot line, must have your personal dialogue, and you must follow it, each performance.

Given a plot line, your task is easier.

When asked if there were any really amusing things that happened to me during performances, or moments that stand out in my memory, I am at a loss.

Millions of things have been funny, dramatic, tragic, but in so many cases, “you had to be there”. Either that or you have to go round the mulberry bush three times to explain the build up to a situation.

What is amusing to a dancer, is not always amusing to someone outside the theatre.

When I go back to those fifty years of performing, more often than not, I think about locations, outside the theatre. Cities, buildings.

When you have been in “magic time” that often, you are not callous, you just think about other things. Things that can still have an effect upon your life as it is now.

There is life after dance!

During dance, that is the life.

Try as you may, to have something outside the theatre; when you are a dancer, everything you touch, or that touches you, directly relates to your profession.

The way you eat, the way you sleep, the way you walk, the way you make love.

All things that enter your life can have a direct bearing, and if used wisely, can benefit your work as a dancer.

It is a total life, if taken correctly. There is certainly nothing shallow about it.

Granted, it is not for everyone, but that does not invalidate it.

You may not end up a millionaire, unless your name was Fonteyn or Nureyev, but hold on a moment. They are both gone, and in my estimation, before their time. They never had the chance to really enjoy the fruits of their efforts. Who won?

Enter the dance field with the realisation, that it is not the highest paying job in the world.

It does have more satisfaction than many other professions.

How many times have I heard people say that they hated their job? Hated their boss!

Not rich, but satisfied? well I guess the final decision is up to the individual, and their ideals.