Maybe I am KAY-POH (meaning, nosy). I don’t do this often, but when I see a beautiful dancer, or a dancer who has a distinctive style, I like to approach the dancer and chat. I plop myself down beside the (usually) stretching dancer, and eventually work up a conversation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily approach professional or pre-professional dancers. Well I do, sometimes, usually just to ask where they have trained and who were their teachers. It may sound strange, but the pre-professional dancers no longer interest me that much. Many of them look so young, and in my country, they usually are from certain schools and take many private lessons. I’m not dismissing their training in any way, but they aren’t usually that interesting to watch. There are always exceptions, but more of that later.
When I get round to chatting with to the interesting dancer, I usually ask where are they from, and if they are tourists.
From this chats, I get to somewhat get to know the background and possibly, how the beautiful dancing happened.
By beautiful dancers (or dancing), I generally refer to those dancers whom compel me to watch and give more than a second glance. Sometimes it is more than technique that compels you to watch someone dance. There may be times where it is not necessarily technique even!
I would be even more interested if they appear to be an ‘adult ballet dancer’ (like us).
Of course, if you ask the big ballet professionals, they will generally say it comes from a foundation of good technique and then it comes from years of experience of living life, emotions, thoughts, beliefs and how that contributes to becoming artists.
But if that is really the case, why is it that I find myself enjoying watching some dancers with less-than-perfect technique in open classes? I wondered. Why don’t I like watching others with seemingly more technique? There is this adult dancer in my classes who was born with almost 100% perfect ballet body. She had the right proportions, long legs, long arms, long neck. She had nice shape of legs and archy feet. She had a small head and sloping shoulders. She was also of the “flat” body shape, instead of the “round type.” She loved ballet so much, she danced everyday, and under a strict Russian teacher. And boy was she flexible. She could hold her legs high like the professionals in ecarte, and had a high arabesque.
She always stood with perfect turnout at the barre. And had a high passe, and was very precise in where she placed her feet at cou-de-pied.
However, no matter how much I’m impressed with her at the barre, I am at odds with myself on why I don’t like to watch her. In fact, she makes me cringe a little during centerwork. Funnily, this is not from a judgement perspective. There may be other dancers flailing their arms and making awkward turns, but I don’t generally get this cringe factor.
In the end, I concluded on the reason why. She is not dancing. She is making “perfect” positions. Or she is merely moving her body. Though technically, she is moving her limbs in time with the music, she is not moving with a natural rhythm. For instance, some people can clap along to the music, and it is natural rhythm that come from within. They are not thinking about it, and counting the seconds before the next clap occur. That is why even with all her “Russian technique”, she is not a beautiful dancer. I believe she has no emotion or feel of any music of natural sense of dance.
So if you do not require the best technique to become a beautiful dancer, what makes a dancer beautiful when she dancers?
I really wanted to know.
(Of course, if you ask all the ballet teachers, they will say technique is the most important, before developing the artistic side of it, which supposedly helps if you have lots of life experience. However, for us adult ballet dancers and our community – we aren’t looking to be professionals. We just want to become good dancers. )
A variety of dance backgrounds
From my chats, I’ve discovered some of these dancers had a variety of dance backgrounds (not necessarily dancing from childhood). They were trained in Jazz, Contemporary and some Latin. Quite a few also had danced ballet in their childhood under a good teacher.
If you ask me, I don’t think it is necessary to learn many different forms of dance to become a good dancer. The exposure will help develop and improve your coordination for sure. That helps you become a better dancer. To me, there are certain drawbacks, which some say, is old-school thinking. The drawbacks is that you may find it harder to find the classical feel. For instance, if you have been trained in Jazz and the way you approach a pirouette (turn) is different from a classical ballet type of pirouette. The energy is different, the posture is different, and there are several jazz nuances … the use of the head, the flow etc.
But you can still be an interesting-to-watch kind of dancer even though you may not look like a classically-trained dancer.
Many top vocational schools seem to advocate becoming versatile anyway. It is your choice. But I believe even though they say this, they still prioritize classical training as a solid foundation of dance. For what I like, to me the best contemporary dancers in the world were ballet dancers first. Even my favourite Jazz or ballroom dancers , I’m always (still) surprised to learn, that they first had classical training. In their dancing, they stand out in with refined, elegant poise of the head and in movement.
But back to what makes a good dancer. I find another very common factor.
a passionate love to dance
In general, a good dancer all loved to move, loved to dance!
They also loved music. They can feel and understand the music.
But how is it that some dancers with good technique dance badly (or rather you just don’t feel moved/anything at all and don’t even feel like watching her/him), and how come some adult dancers are STILL pleasant to watch?
I wanted to find out.
Because if I can figure this so-called mystery…. I can become my own version of a beautiful dancer and not stress out about my lack-than-perfect technique, which is probably impossible to achieve.
Without great technique, THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T DANCE!
Without great technique, THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T ENJOY DANCING TOO.
Moreover, over these few years, my understanding of dance and as a dancer has somewhat deepened. This is result from having to do a little ballet teaching myself. I owe a lot of dance & business opportunities to my current dance studio. And so when they approached me to take over a few 3-6 years old children’s ballet classes, I found it hard to say no. Also, I felt it was a good way to keep in touch in dance as I’m in a stage/period in my life where I can’t commit as much time as before (such as 6 days a week). I still dance at least twice a week (and my body shape has changed because of this *sobs*)
Anyhow, this teaching has exposed me to many different bodies, personalities, learning styles and aptitudes. My little ballet students, are very much like us, even though they are babies. Some have great facility, but can’t seem to apply her gifted body to the work. Some may not have the greatest bodies, but have a natural rhythm. Some have everything including talent, but are so shy…they are so deadpan in their dancing. And at 3 years old, I can already see the natural ranges of flexibility! Natural splits and bendy everywhere, and others are less flexible than I am! (At 3 years old?!? What? How can I be more flexible than a 3 year old.)
The children mostly love their ballet classes, but there are a few that are there because their moms made them.That’s sad. I don’t see that too much in adult classes. Everyone is trying from where I’m from.
So what makes a dancer look beautiful
It is technique + more.
A beautiful dancer generally has the solid foundation of technique. It may not be perfect, but you can tell that she fully is aware of the “ballet technique rules”. This dancer generally exudes a sense of conscious work – she is well aware of what she’s doing in class and tries to perfect this…especially during the barre. When it comes to center, she still tries to remain disciplined but also allows bits of expression – she is giving herself to dance in music. She is dancing. She’s not merely making empty movements.
Not much technique + great coordination & musicality
Foundation + life experience
A genuine love for dance