February 19, 2024

Ballet Is Consuming!

About the Author: Suzanne Wagner
By Published On: February 19, 2024Categories: Ballet

Dancing Is Consuming!

As a dancer my world was completely focused on rehearsals and performances. Dancing consumed my mind and heart for so long that one does not realize how much we are willing to sacrifice for this idealized and seemingly perfect dream.
All things in my world prioritized on being ready, willing, and mentally able to do what was asked of me. Dancers have a type of focus that I am sure other athletes and artists have for their sports or arts. But this type of focus supersedes all other things including people, love, relationships, and dealing with realities such as money.
When I was dancing, nothing else mattered … but dancing. Everything else is not just secondary but even much further down the line than that.
All things evolved around making sure I had the energy stores and physical resources to perform my best.
All dancers have their particular rituals for class, rehearsal, and especially for performing.
Dance was the elixir of life and as we drank from that sacred fountain, dance would give us moments where we were transported beyond form to become the embodiment of the light and energy that we knew we were.
Dance was a conscious devotion to the demands of all forms of sacrifice in order to turn flesh into something divine.
Class was the daily prayer, where we offered up our limitations to be molded and shaped by the strict rules of ballet in order to become worthy. Class was the place we were humbled by the density of the body as we tried to get it to remember that inside was a powerful light trying to escape out into this world. Class was that place where we had to deal with the sore muscles, the tightness of the tendons, and the tiredness of the spirit. Class to me was an internal and silent prayer to become worthy as a vessel for something magical to transport me beyond my insecurity and fears of not being enough and to have a chance to touch the God/Goddess within.
As a student at either the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet or the School of American Ballet, class was my escape from the hardships of daily life. Ballet class gave me hope and something to reach for that was beyond the physical and into the hidden potential that my soul longed to touch.
But as a professional dancer, ballet class was the place where one was not trying to escape this reality but instead to deal with the very hard reality of what it actually meant and took to be a professional ballet dancer.
When I was a student, I would go to school and then go to ballet. But being a professional ballet dancer, every day was ballet. It was all day and it demanded much from a body that was constantly being asked to do more, try harder, be better, and to stretch into new places, new characters, new techniques, new steps, new sequences, new costumes, and new perspectives every day.
Ballet class was only the starting point but a critical starting point because regardless of how good or bad the teacher might be for class, each dancer understood what the rehearsal schedule was for that day and week. We knew what was going to be asked of us and so regardless of if we liked the class or not, or if our rehearsals were going to require certain things from us, and if the class that day was inadequate. The only thing that mattered was that it meant that we had to prepare in other ways to be able to be ready for what was going to be asked of us later in the day.
In ballet there is an unspoken rule, “No Excuses!”

And that is taken literally. If the class and teacher in that ballet class does not flow in the way that the rehearsals are going to require of you, one can never blame the teacher. One just has to figure out on our own what we need to do to prepare.
Every ballet company has dancers that are from a variety of teachings, styles, and skill levels. It is impossible for a teacher to be able to address all the needs and requirements of each dancer and what they are about to have to do in rehearsals. That is why each dancer intuitively and consciously does what is necessary, either before, during, or after the class. But that adds additional levels of stress and tension to make sure you are ready for what is yet to come.
The pressures are tremendous, especially when one is doing or setting a new ballet. Because we do not know the steps, we do not know what the choreography will require of us, and we do not know if we can do it properly or even if our efforts will be to an acceptable level.
I remember, Valery Panov, (who was trained in the Russian schools with the Cossack methods of dancing) he had been trained in a way where he had knees built for the tremendous demands of that style.
I remember him saying, “You run from the back of the room and then slide on the tops of your arches to keep your knees barely off the floor so you slide forward.”
We all looked at him in shock, fully aware that we did not know how to do this, we had never done this, and we were terrified that we would get injured just trying it. Dancers are very protective of their body and knee injuries could end a dancer’s career instantly in my generation.
We stood there in shock, and he recognized that we had no idea how to do what he asked. So, in perfect Valery fashion, he showed us!
He went to the back of the studio and ran forward, in his boots, sliding on his arches about 8 feet and then leaping from that position off his arches to his feet.
We stood there in amazement, applauding, but not one bit convinced that we were even capable of doing this.
Of course, he insisted that we try. Dancers tried to explain that we were not trained in this style of Russian Folk Dance. But we were doing the Ballet, “War and Peace from the author, Leo Tolstoy (a famous Russian), and he wanted to portray accurately the Russian passion and temperament.

Needless-to-say, we all failed miserably. No matter how hard we tried, we were not able to give him the effect he was looking for. He was clearly disappointed, but he modified the choreography so that we might be able to give at least the feeling he was going for even if we could not do the steps he wanted.
While dancers deal with such choreographic challenges daily, some are more personally intense than others.
What makes great principal dancers are those souls who are so amazingly talented that they can appear to move through those challenges more effortlessly than the rest of the dancers. They make difficult things appear easy, while the rest of us are obviously struggling and also appearing to struggle, which is opposite from what ballet dancers are supposed to show.
Ballet is the illusion of effortlessness. Ballet is an artform where the soul can instruct the body to do what seems impossible to others.
Most do not realize how hard that simple concept is to apply on a daily basis.
I remember, being a dancer in Berlin and making sure my entire day revolved around being prepared for the rehearsals for that day, and the performance that evening.
People used to ask me how I did my long day once I became a massage therapist at the Stein Eriksen Lodge during high ski season. The requirements were long hours and doing massage on people that had been couch potatoes for months only to come out to this expensive resort to have fun and ski. Quickly they discover that after 4 runs they were sore, tight, and exhausted. They were desperately wanting a massage to fix them, so they could continue to have fun and ski. There is nothing like working on someone who is literally tied into a knot from head to toe.
But my answer to those who questioned how I managed was, “Everything is relative after being a professional ballet dancer. Once you have to do class, a quick rehearsal and two Swan Lake’s on a Saturday, anything after that will seem easy!”
Dance took everything that I could give it. But dance gave back more than almost any other career that I have done. Because ballet gave back to me personally in energies that were euphoric, transformational, and connected my human self to my cosmic self.
I love watching ballet, but I adored dancing ballet. Doing it gives me so much more than just watching it. But these days being older, I recognize that my body could not do what I used to do. So now, watching it, in moments, can allow me to feel what those dancers are feeling, and I can capture moments when that transcendent expression is almost there. Notice I said, “Almost there!” It is like smelling coffee but not tasting it but that the smell reminds you of the taste and sensation.
To me, all forms of movement are addictive and can transport me from my human self to my more magical self. Listening to music can do the same. Especially if I have danced to that music. My body instantly remembers how something feels and that sensation is the elevator to those higher frequencies that I crave.
Ballet is an art that requires tremendous amounts of self-discipline and self-awareness. Ballet is a lifestyle that demands constant care and attention. Ballet is the most demanding teacher in my life.
And I adore her.
I hope that each soul can find something that captivates one’s soul so completely that all minor things disappear into the ethers.
Ballet taught me how to focus and how to care about details. Ballet taught me about subtlety and nuance. Ballet taught me how to pace myself and my energy so I could go the distance. Ballet taught me about emotions and feelings that I had never experienced. And ballet taught me how to love myself fully and completely.
Ballet was the deepest and most intimate relationship I ever had with another being. And ballet is something very alive, living, and breathing.
Ballet was able to take all that I offered in the moment without collapsing and feeling overwhelmed.
Ballet never told me I was too much!
Ballet was able to allow in all that I was and all that I longed yet to become. Ballet never felt overwhelmed by how big I felt or how intense my emotions could be. Ballet never backed away from what I was trying to offer but instead, showed me where I still had even more inside to express while applauding all my efforts in the process.
Ballet was the greatest gift I have ever been offered in this lifetime.
She has never left me. She has never abandoned any of my efforts in this life. And she continued to instruct me on how to discover even more that I have inside.
I am grateful to this Goddess of Dance and know that as devoted as I am to her, she is that devoted to all those who wish to walk the paths of passion that lead to her door.
The pathways of passion are pure expressions of love. They are the sparks that beat all hearts and that inspire all things of beauty and wonder.
Those pathways of passion have made you and gave you this body and expression right now. It will be up to you to decide how deeply you wish to dive in this lifetime.
Just know that this ocean is much deeper than you could possibly fathom, and it is in that depth that we all quietly wait to witness your magnificence when you are finally ready.

~Suzanne Wagner~

Go to Top