My problem with the Academia of dance studies.
When I moved to France in 2012, I did it to study dance (theory) in the university. I was beyond excited to learn about dance in general. In my head, ballet was going to be sort of part of the studies. But to my disappointment, ballet was considered intellectually invalid. As the only professional dancer of that generation of students, I found it quite intolerant on the part of Academia, to put the etiquette of "invalid" to ballet without even acknowledging its history, influence and diversity. If you read articles from M. Fokine about his creations, he had a very clear vision of why he created the Dying Swan variation. If you know Tchaikovsky’s history, you would understand why the music on the second act of the Nutcracker sounds so heartbreaking: he composed those pieces after hearing from the death of his sister. If you would have read the real text from Theophile Gaultier from Giselle, you would know that in between the Willis, there was supposed to be all sorts of ethnicities represented on stage. If you would take ballet seriously, you would truly understand how and why it is deeply connected to literature, poetry, dramaturgie, music, spirituality and symbolism. It was not just about colonialism. Partially yes, but not entirely. Because as I said, dance is a language most humans still cannot understand, and it goes beyond what words can say.And there is far much more depth in any ballet, than to what the Academia of dance studies gives it the credit for.
Now let me tell you, that I understand this resentment towards ballet. I understand it, and it’s valid. But like I said, my experience of liberation through ballet is also valid. Liberation does not come without pain tho. And that is why I am anti-woke. There is no liberation without struggle. That is why, class struggle is so interesting to me, to see it, to live it, to analyse it, to practice it. Marxism is a very solid tool. And I mix it with indigenous Spirituality and philosophy, because that's how my path of liberation kept developping.
Ballet is viewed by the academia as something completely superficial, vain, oppressive and unnecessary. Something too “pretty” to be taken seriously. As if that beauty would be easy to achieve. No, The beauty that is born from the technical and artistic work of ballet is a beauty that goes beyond mortality (I’ll talk about eurocentric beauty standards in my second episode, stay tuned). And regarding the shape of the human body: You don’t really know how much self criticism and discipline it takes to be a ballet dancer. And right now I say that as a universal truth, regardless of what color your skin is, if you’re a ballet dancer, you know this is true.
So, not only the dance Academia in European Universities sees ballet as intellectually invalid, but it’s also seen as something that should stay in the past. If you're familiar with decoloniality, you know that our concept of "modernity" is a colonial concept. And my point about modernity is very well explained in my post about why Isadora Dunan is overrated. I’ll explain the coloniality of our perception of Time further in this article. But let’s continue with the anecdote.
To add to my disappointment, I was expecting to have classmates who actually had a formal dance education, but most of the people who were studying with me never even got to experience the stage. They were just brats that never took any risk in their lives and had no professional experience at all. I say it in a very mean and harsh way, and I have strong reasons to do it. Having a dance education, implies that at least for 8 years, you develop a tough skin regarding criticism. Because you cannot grow without criticism. You cannot improve without criticism. You cannot become a professional dancer, without criticism. So how can you even criticize, if you never experienced criticism yourself? I think that’s an act of cowardry.
People must understand that when you educate your body you also educate the connection of your MIND with it, which means that at the same time you learn to dance, you develop cognitive skills. And if you were lucky enough to have a true ballet master (because sadly I have to admit that a lot of ballet teachers do not teach ballet correctly), then you will know that this ballet education gave you very strong analytical skills. Because that is how ballet technique works. It is a mental, physical, and spiritual challenge. But these kids were taught to criticize things that they NEVER experienced themselves, they were taught to repeat slogans without understanding nor experiencing them themselves: “ballet is classist” “ballet is oppressive” “ballet is just about being pretty” “ballet is boring” “What’s so poetic about an arabesque?”
Basically they were taught that anything that makes them feel bad about their own uneducated bodies, even if it’s implicit, it’s oppressive. They never experienced the true oppression of Ballet, or they experienced it very few because they probably had really bad teachers, they never understood the point of ballet. Let me repeat that, there are a lot of BAD teachers out therer in the ballet world, but also there are a lot of BAD contemporary dance teachers. Most students would never even begin to understand why ballet dancers dedicate their lives to ballet. Yet they still had the audacity to speak about it and criticize it while beeing approved by the Academia of dance studies. That’s how you become a dance critic. That’s how most of them graduated.
Yesterday I went to a ballet event, where important figures were discussing Social Media and ballet. It was an interesting conversation. And there had to be the contemporary person, who always has something out of context to say, just for the sake of repeating that slogan that they learn so vividly in the Academia of dance studies: “You guys are classist, you did not make us part of your conversation, you just stayed there as we watch you. It’s about skin color, it’s about ressources, it’s about privileges etc”. If only you knew, that Margot Fonteyn died POOR...
The lady looked like she hadn't taken a shower in a month, but also, she was white. To me that was proof that the Academia of dance studies, only brainwashes the students to hate ballet and it does not teach any of those students to CONTEXTUALIZE anything and to actually analyze before criticizing. As far as I'm concerned, University supposedly teaches you methodic analysis right? Because before one criticizes, one first need to analyze. Right? example: I fell off my arabesque. I must be doing something wrong in my body mechanics, how do I fix it? That’s the analytical skills we get from learning a dance technique, especially ballet, because ballet is based in body algorithms that no simple mind can understand superficially. But no dance critic could ever understand this because most of them have their bodies completely uneducated, like most normal human beings. And that lack of connection mind/Body, is a consequence of Colonialism. Colonialism divided the world in TWO: body vs mind, good vs evil, black vs white. Now in indigenous spirituality, binarity is only taken as a reference to understand the diversity of the world: we all have masculine and femenine energy in our bodies, this makes the world a non binary world. But you must acknowledge WHAT is masculine and WHAT is feminine in order to understand the non binarity of your body. Even Heterosexuality is fluid and it is all about going beyond binarity, not denying it. Anyways that's another topic for another article.
But the reason why I left the Academic dance Studies, is because it still imposes ONE point of view on dance, while denying the validity of Ballet. The director of the dance studies in that french university told me I had a brilliant career as a dance critic, and that I would most likely never make it as a professional dancer. I don’t hate him and I don’t blame him for saying that to me. Because at the time I was giving up the Academic dance studies, I was 12 kilos overweight due to depression. And as a ballet dancer, I was educated to BE HONEST WITH MYSELF. So, I knew he was right when he said that, because I knew how the industry works. Being honest with yourself is something that is very rare nowadays. Nowadays it is only about being toxicaly positive, and gaslighting your own negativity. Remember there is no light without darkness.
No, I don’t consider myself “woke”. I am against the lack of discipline. I am against toxic positivity. Yes I'm harsh. No, I'm not sorry. I am a ballerina of color and I give myself the permission to be critical because I am tired of always being at the center of the attacks of contemporary people who never would even dare to experience what we, ballet dancers, decide to experience. And as Nijinsky said in his diary, ONLY DANCERS CAN WRITE ABOUT DANCE, I state the same, but for ballet. ONLY BALLET DANCERS (AND MASTERS) CAN WRITE ABOUT BALLET. And you cannot just have the audacity of deconstructing ballet, without having any clue of what the real ballet vocabulary is, nor what the Global Ballet history is, right? Ballet is much more than “tombé pas de bourré, fourth, pirouette” with exotic hands. There is an actual science behind it. But that does not mean that I take the side of ALL ballet people, because I know for a fact that there are a lot of people in Ballet that ARE oppressors. Most of them disguised of very kind advisers: "maybe you should open your mind towards contemporary dance". No thank you, I rather doing fouettes, knowing that Louis XIV would HATE the fact that black, brown and indigenous peoples are actually doing BALLET with quality. I do ballet not only because its body algorythms are very empowering, but also because of all the white people that say that brown people cannot do ballet. Like Cardi B would say: "I like proving "people" wrong, I do what they say I can't." Yes, I love Cardi B and Tchaikovsky. Sue me.
To finish this first episode, I will clarify why our conception of “modernity” and Time is a colonial concept. To finally make the Academia of Dance studies question themselves a little bit.
In 2021 I was one of the recipients of the DIS TANZ SOLO founding, to do research on the lost vocabulary of ballet (Enrico Cecchetti Method) and new sustainable training methods like Eric Conrad’s Placement Method. I wrote about this already in my DIS TANZ SOLO blog, but studying Enrico Cecchetti’s lost vocabulary of ballet, was mind blowing.
Take a look at this video, and be analytical with the movement. This was the final result of my research on Cecchetti and Placement Method:
Don’t you think that many of these steps look a little bit similar to Merce Cunningham’s style? Enrico Cecchetti had this figured out for ballet dancers in the end of the XIX and beginning of the XX century. Cunningham came much later.
Don’t you think we have a very simplistic way of perceiving Time and Modernity?
In indigenous cultures, Time is not a line. It’s spiral. The past is not behind. The past can be in the front, it can also be in the present. You can see the past, because we have experienced it. The future on the other hand we cannot see it. We only build it while being on the present. So this is how some things from the past stay alive throughout the years, and this is a phenomenon that has always happened in Humanity. You were only lied to when people told you that the past is behind, and the future is the only thing that matters. That’s actually the perfect recipe for reinventing the wheel. What did Merce Cunningham do? He reinvented Cecchetti’s movements. He did not invent anything new. Of course I am sure he did not do it on purpose. It’s just that he had the audacity to believe he could invent “his own style” like most choreographers think they can. Yes, I will be very controversial. Because the idea of private property applies to movement. An arabesque would be invented by anyone who is creative with their bodies. Right? Now it is only because of Louis XIV, a person with extreme privileges and power, that ballet was institutionalized and now Arabesque belongs to "ballet", but it can actually also belong to any contemporary, folk dancer who puts their leg behind them. RIGHT? the only difference between those dances and a ballet arabesque, is that Ballet is made for huge stages, and Ballet utilizes the magic of TURNOUT. No other dance nor even sport uses Turnout.
For my friends who are not familiar with Ballet, turnout is the hip rotation, you know when you see ballerinas walk like ducks? that's turnout, in a simple explanation. Hehe, ok, long enough for the first article of my "Decolonizing Ballet" series, next episode is about our relationship to body, eurocentric beauty standards, academics of Ballet, and a lot of probelmatics that I see with the damaging woke movement.