Click here to view my elevator pitch.———————> Elevator Pitch
DISCLAIMER: This isn’t something I want to write about. The idea of it makes me feel kind of braggy.
But here goes.
I am good at things. Not everything, but I am good at things.
I don’t really know where to start, so here is the definition of skill:
intransitive verb \ˈskil\
Definition of SKILL
archaic: to make a difference : matter, avail
Origin of SKILL
Middle English skilen, from Old Norse skilja to separate, divide; akin to Old Norse skil distinctionFirst Known Use: 13th century
: the ability to do something that comes from training, experience, or practice
a : the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance
b : dexterity or coordination especially in the execution of learned physical tasks
“The ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance.” This one seems obvious, but there are a lot of skills I have that I don’t even think about.
These are the kind of skills I learned over time without even realizing what I was learning.
For FACE, we have to write a sixty-second introduction for ourselves. This is a rough draft:
When Pina Bausch said, “Dance, Dance, or we are lost,” she was not referring to being lost in a physical sense. She was referring to the necessity of dancing everything with full intention. My name is Claire Daigle, and I am a dance major at SMU. I strive for fullness in my work as a dancer, whether it be dancing, teaching, or choreographing. My work ethic follows this principle no matter what the work is. Here is a link to my website. www.clairedaigle.com
Motivation is something I have struggled with in the past. I love what I do, but sometimes I get frustrated, and my love for dance begins to fade. Rudolph Nureyev once said that “Technique is what you fall back on when you run out of inspiration.” When I don’t feel a need or desire to dance as a way to express myself, I think of this quote. This attitude is the reason I have not quit dance.
Dance is not a career that loves you back. You have to give so much of yourself to the career, but you can not expect anything in return. At times it is frustrating. It takes a strong person to seek a career in dance. We work in the studio for countless hours, and only perform on stage for a few minutes. Sometimes the work does not seem worth it.
Those few moments on stage make the endless rehearsals worth every minute. Performances usually flash by in what seems like seconds. A piece that feels twelve minutes long in rehearsal might only feel three minutes long in performance.
For me, this is what makes a performance good. I am so absorbed in the choreography that I lose all sense of time. But the best part of a performance is the sense of giving, and expecting nothing in return. When I perform, I do not expect anyone to applaud, because the biggest gift of dance is the ability to express my point of view to hundreds or even thousands of people at a time. There is no other way that I could do this and still feel like myself.
The way I keep my motivation in the studio is by thinking about those brief moments on stage. That is the true reward of dance.
Most of these blogs for FACE are not things that I would otherwise think much about. This one especially. It seems to me that most artists would have very similar values, but I guess that might not be true.
As an artist, most of my values are pretty standard. I like people who work hard. I like to take my work seriously, but not myself. I also like originality, but with respect to historical works.
I do have some view that are not shared by everyone. I don’t believe in “art for art’s sake”. I think that everything should have a purpose; why use talent to create something for nothing?
I gravitate toward work that fulfills this need for a purpose. I respond best when I am given a reason for something, and I have been this way my whole life. If my mom told me not to touch a stove “because she says so,” I would not understand why touching the stove is a bad idea. I would feel somewhat betrayed because she might be holding out on me. What if touching the stove is fun? If my mom were to tell me not to touch the stove because it is hot and I would burn my hand, I would gladly follow her advice.
I appreciate art that does not have a “why”, but I prefer art with a deeper meaning.
Martha Graham wrote an essay titled I Am a Dancer in which she stated her beliefs about what it means to be a dancer, and by extension a human. While I don’t share her philosophy 100%, I really enjoyed reading this. I think it’s a must read for any artist.
Martha Graham reading her own essay on NPR in 1953:
I Am A Dancer
by Martha Graham
I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God.
Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.
I think the reason dance has held such an ageless magic for the world is that it has been the symbol of the performance of living. Many times I hear the phrase “the dance of life.” It is close to me for a very simple and understandable reason. The instrument through which the dance speaks is also the instrument through which life is lived: the human body. It is the instrument by which all the primaries of experience are made manifest. It holds in its memory all matters of life and death and love.
Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to the paradise of that achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration; there are daily small deaths. Then I need all the comfort that practice has stored in my memory and a tenacity of faith. But it must be the kind of faith that Abraham had, wherein he “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief.”
It takes about 10 years to make a mature dancer. The training is twofold. There is the study and practice of the craft in order to strengthen the muscular structure of the body. The body is shaped, disciplined, honored and in time, trusted. The movement becomes clean, precise, eloquent, truthful. Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it. This might be called the law of the dancer’s life — the law which governs its outer aspects.
Then there is the cultivation of the being. It is through this that the legends of the soul’s journey are re-told with all their gaiety and their tragedy and the bitterness and sweetness of living. It is at this point that the sweep of life catches up the mere personality of the performer and while the individual (the undivided one), becomes greater, the personal becomes less personal. And there is grace. I mean the grace resulting from faith: faith in life, in love, in people and in the act of dancing. All this is necessary to any performance in life which is magnetic, powerful, rich in meaning.
In a dancer there is a reverence for such forgotten things as the miracle of the small beautiful bones and their delicate strength. In a thinker there is a reverence for the beauty of the alert and directed and lucid mind. In all of us who perform there is an awareness of the smile which is part of the equipment, or gift, of the acrobat. We have all walked the high wire of circumstance at times. We recognize the gravity pull of the earth as he does. The smile is there because he is practicing living at that instant of danger. He does not choose to fall.
Dancers have to work differently from other artists. Musicians, painters, sculptors, actors, chefs, and the like can all have long careers spanning a lifetime. A dancer is lucky to have a professional career for ten years. Dancers can not afford to work their bodies the same way a musician plays an instrument.
The most valuable work habit I have learned is to take breaks. If I am not getting a step, I will stop after the eleventh or twelfth attempt. At a certain point improper technique begins to feel comfortable, and bad habits are formed. Sometimes just five minutes is enough time to give me a new perspective on a step. Other times, it might take a day. Repeating a movement until it is perfect does not work for me.
I spend a lot of time thinking about dance outside of class. Sometimes I will write down and analyze the mechanics of the step. I’ve even had dreams where I was able to do a step perfectly, and felt a significant improvement when I attempted it the next day.
Whatever I do, I try not to mindlessly muscle it out. My body is only going to be able to do so many pliés in my life, so I need to use them wisely.
This applies to other things I do as well. I started working on this blog yesterday, but I could not focus on it. Rather than force myself to crank it out, but agonize over it in the process, I put it aside and worked on something else. Now I am writing it without a problem.
I keep a mental (sometimes physical) checklist of everything I need to get done whether it’s taking a math quiz, writing a paper, or even checking Facebook. When I start to struggle with one thing, I put it aside and find something else on my list that I feel like doing. Usually when I finish something I reward myself with a little bit of free time.
Deadlines have never been much of a problem for me, but they have to be set by someone else. If I am being held accountable by someone else I will come through, but if left up to my own devices I will most likely give up. It’s kind of a weakness of mine.
I’m constantly asked by myself and others, “What made you start dancing?” I hate the question. It makes me feel like an external force made me want to dance. The truth is, I have no idea why I started.
One of my earliest memories takes place at my great-grandmother’s old house in New Orleans. We were living with her at the time. I had been begging my mom to let me take dance classes, but in reality it was probably just because my two best friends did. Her response was always, “Ask again when you turn four.” She sounded like a broken record, and probably felt like one too.
By the time January rolled around, I had finally turned four. I told my mom, “I want to be a ballerina.” I’m not sure if that is verbatim, but that is how I remember it. The next month I took my first ballet class.
When I was seven, I wanted to quit ballet because I thought my teacher was too mean. It is one of the most unnerving things for me to think about. I can not imagine what my life would be like if I had made a different decision at that point.
The important thing is, I stuck it out.
It hasn’t been an easy journey, and I’ve wanted to throw in the towel a few times since then, but I always think back to the first time I wanted to quit. Every time I want to leave dance behind, something comes along to renew my love of dance, whether it’s seeing a performance, or performing, or even just having a really good class.
Sometimes I stop to think about how dance is important in the greater scheme of the world. People are living in shanties without running water or electricity. People are dying of cancer every day. Yet I still spend day after day in a dance studio. Sometimes I feel guilty. Truth is, dance is the way I know how to give back.
I look up to choreographers like Martha Graham and Pina Bausch because of the messages in their work. Dance can be a powerful vessel for taking on social issues. These two women worked to change the way people think, not just about dance but about social justice. Their works were visceral and not purely for entertainment; their works were meant to inspire change.
The works of these and other choreographers have helped me to realize that dance is meaningful. Ballets about princesses and swans are historically important and must be preserved, but they are not going to change the world. Audiences must be moved by dance for it to be successful. It is important that we move them to action.
Here are links to videos of Pina Bausch’s Cafe Muller and Martha Graham’s Lamentation.
Took some work, but I’ve finally got this up and running! Thanks to everyone who helped me out.