April 1, 2023

Favorite Ballets – Balanchine – Stars and Stripes – Getting Injured and Moving Towards the Next Path

About the Author: Suzanne Wagner
By Published On: April 1, 2023Categories: Ballet, Blog Daily

Favorite Ballets – Balanchine – Stars and Stripes – Getting Injured and Moving Towards the Next Path


I am grateful for all the Balanchine Ballets that I have had the chance to dance. Being at the School of American Ballet, I have that flavor and style of movement in my bones. To me it always felt playfully organic, and its quality of movement was always very neoclassical.

Balanchine was fabulous in how he could take the emotional intention of the music and giving permission to the dancers to playfully, twist and tweak the music through their bodies.
In doing that we could discover a more honest expression of movement could explode out of our bodies.
The Balanchine style always comes across as innovative and risk taking. Balanchine understood the deep emotional and spiritual connection between music and movement. And his ability to choreograph in ways that allowed that merging to flow with a combination of enthusiasm and unusual motions on a stage … made it so very fun to dance. His choreography could make an audience feel surprised and gleeful.
It was as if a dancer was allowed to play inside the music.

A ballet dancer was no longer like a music box character turning perfectly to the music. Instead, the dancer was inside the music box, stepping on the notes … becoming the sound as it bounced off their bodies.
The playfulness of Balanchine choreography is its attraction to dancers. That playfulness can appear serious, but the body become enthralled with the movements and the music and movements become intertwined in unique ways that cause a dancer’s body to almost hum or chant as a new vibration of the music becomes expressed by the dancers accents and patterns that their movement accentuates.
When I very first came to Ballet West, we did the Balanchine’s ballet, Stars and Stripes.
I was just in the corps dancing that ballet, but I remember the principles that danced the leading roles in this ballet and how something so rare and beautiful began to explode out their bodies.
The music was so very … American. But who could not want to dance to the music of John Philip Sousa?
Once again, Bob Arbogast was one of the principal male dancers and his boyish charm and infectious smile combined with his playful antics to the music would ignite the stage on fire and the energy would begin to bounce back and forth between the dancers and making all of us more animated and joyful. The movements were fun, quaint, and quirky without being offensive.
Balanchine took a feeling of the American ideal and used the dancers to become the artistic expression of patriotism. A type of patriotism that was unifying rather than dividing.
Stacey Swaner was the principal female dancer and in this series of performances … she was electrifying in her perfect expression of movement, her playful way that she could bewitch the audience with the personality of her very soul and the jubilation that she carried around as she danced with abandon.
This ballet was infectious in its expression, and it called everyone to do more and extend a bit further.

In one show, I extended a bit too far and in a series of jumps from one leg to the other, as we were to go off stage from a circle into a line and out the wing, one foot was coming down as the other was coming up. I was on the corner, but as I tried to turn one foot slipped out from under me as it had landed on the edges of the tape that kept the panels of the Marley floor together. The result was that my foot went to the left as my body was going around the corner to the right, and my back got caught in the middle.

It is a terrible feeling to feel something tear in your back muscles and then to hear something pop.

I managed to finish what I was doing and get off stage but the pain in my back was so severe that I was having trouble catching my breath because I could not breathe in fully.
Coming off stage, at the end, I was already out of breath.

As we all regroup to go out for the Grand Finale, I know I am hurt but when a dancer is warm, we aren’t quite sure how hurt we are. Dancers don’t like to show pain in a performance, and I knew that I had to keep going till the end.

After all, I was brand new to the company and I could not afford to look weak after just barely getting to Utah.

I finished out the performance and as my body cooled down in the dressing room, everything in my back began to seize up. The pain was like a tight corset around my ribs and my muscles were registering that I was injured, and their response is to create swelling and to lock the muscles in a place so that no more movement can happen. The intention is that paralyzing the area allows the muscles to heal. But it was like trying to breathe in a vice.
I went home that night and took some Tylenol and put some German cream on my back that had Heparin in it. (Something I used regularly in Berlin.) Unfortunately, this is not available in America, but it works really well and is easy to get over the counter in Berlin. It works like a Bengay but much better and it does not smell.
But in the morning, I was in pain, locked up, stiff as a board, and concerned enough that I called Louis Godfrey (the rehearsal director and ballet master) asking what to do.
His response was very typical to our generation of “The show must go on!” And he said, “Okay. This morning, drink a beer and take three Tylenol and come to class to warm it up. Then we will decide.”
And like a good ballerina soldier … that is what I did. Got a little numb, took some muscle relaxants and carefully warmed up my body.
The message was clear. Keep dancing.

It was a familiar message. One every dancer knows from my generation.
But I also decided to go to an acupuncturist because I knew while I could dance with this, the pain was excruciating, and it is hard to enjoy a ballet if one is constantly navigating pain.

I found Dr. Chen San Lu, on State Street in Salt Lake City.

He was new to Utah and barely spoke English at that time. Chinese Medicine has always worked for me and so I decided to give it a try.

In broken English he said to me, “First day, no different! Second day, no different! Third day, All Gone!”

I thought to myself, “Okay, I will give it three days and three sessions to see how it will go!”

And he was right. I laid face down on the table and he put needles in my back.

The first day, everything was the same.

The second day was also the same.

The third day, he came back in and declared “Good news! All needles pop out!”

And sure enough, the needles were laying on my back instead of inside my body. The meridians that were broken repaired and reconnected and the energy was cleanly running through my body again. And the pain was gone!

From that point on, as a dancer I always first went to the Chinese doctors as a first form of treatment when injured.

Because dancers need to dance. We cannot dance on muscle relaxants, or high on any painkillers because, “The show must go on!”

Chiropractic is also a godsend to ballet dancers because of our hyper flexibility. A chiropractor explained to me that they flexibility that is so critical to a dancer makes all the attachments looser in the ligaments and tendons. If something goes out easily, it will also go back in easily with an adjustment.
I am so very grateful to all the healers that have been so gracious and kind to me throughout my life.

I honestly do not think I could have done what I have managed to do without them.

I think there is a very special place in heaven for the healers of the world.
They made such a difference in my life that these amazing souls would become the compass pointing me towards the direction that would eventually pull me out of ballet and into the world of massage therapy, craniosacral therapy, the mind/body connection, tools that allow for the expansion of consciousness and deeper awareness.

Life is amazing how it will show the doors that will become the next trajectory in our lives. It is through our wounding that we are inspired by our own healing to become the healers and in doing that we become the next generation of teachers for others.
~Suzanne Wagner~

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