The last time I did this, it was September 2009. I'd like to think of it as an annual thing, though. So, the end of 2010 edition. Just some fragmentary thoughts from unfinished posts. They are unedited and raw, but here they are anyway!
So, what's it really like being a dancer? Is my life anything like that of the dancers in Black Swan? Well, no. And yes.
My daily routine is a hard one. We have anything between 4 hours of rehearsal 4 times a week and 6 hours of rehearsal 5 days a week. And sometimes, there is less work. In between all of that, there are performances in schools and at other venues. Outreach work can be at conference, a library, a corporate meeting room. I've been doing less of that recently, so it's not fully on my schedule.
Appropriate Bodies for Dance?
From the NYT -- this after the fuss about Natalie Portman being too thin.
This didn’t feel, however, like an opening night. Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many; and Jared Angle, as the Cavalier, seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm. They’re among the few City Ballet principals who dance like adults, but without adult depth or complexity. Ashley Bouder (Dewdrop) has the brilliance they lack, but also a greater and more tough-grained hardness. Even Teresa Reichlen (as Coffee), often one of the company’s freshest and most multidimensional dancers, performed with a glassiness I don’t recall. And Ms. Otranto’s conducting lacked the moment-by-moment rapport with her dancers that turns a safe performance into a tingling one.The internet and the dance world are justly aflame. Even Jezebel has the story. Alexandra Beller known for speaking out on issues of weight and dance responds on HuffPo.
As for whether or not a dancer's body can factor into an opinion of a piece of art, it absolutely can. Every part of a production is fair game. HOWEVER: I believe it is your moral duty as a critic to question your cultural, social and psychological baggage and not allow predjudice, hate, fear and judgement to color your published comments. If you have questioned yourself sharply and deeply and you find that a dancer's body truly took away from the artistry of the work, I think you can write thoughtfully and wisely about it.Macaulay responds, justifying himself: It's OK; it's what dancers expect. And, besides, I have physical deformity issues, too. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.
As someone whose body has been written about for years, I have rarely seen it done. "Quite cellu-lite on her feet" was in my first review of my first performance with Bill T Jones. Clever. Not sure it was extremely valuable to a critique of his work, though, and didn't make my first month in the company any easier.
Dancers do not ask to be considered victims. When I’ve praised Ms. Ringer, I’ve applied the standards I’ve applied to Suzanne Farrell, Natalia Makarova and Kyra Nichols.Catch the use of "victim" language here!
My own history makes me intimately aware of what it is like to have a physique considerably less ideal than any of those I have mentioned. Acute asthma in childhood gave me a chest deformity that often made me miserable into my adolescence. (It was ameliorated by major thoracic surgery at age 20.) On my doctor’s advice, I lost 20 pounds last year.
Tara Parker-Pope from the Times' Health section gets in on the conversation: "More important, I’m troubled by the suggestion that an emaciated dancer is somehow more pleasing to watch. To my eye, Ms. Ringer, who has talked openly about struggling with disordered eating, looks like the ideal ballerina — an athletic, graceful woman who dances with strength."
Ms. Parker Pope's piece also includes a link to the video and some transcription of Jennifer Ringer's response.
I note the following (from Ms. Parker-Pope's transcription of Ms. Ringer's response): "We have every body type you can imagine. We have tall, we have petite, we have athletic, we have womanly, we have waif-like. We have every body type out there." No disability. Granted, disability is not a body type, but ...
On My Own Opening Night
The show opens tonight. Yesterday, I was so scared that I thought I would be writing today about fear.
I woke up this morning and for the first time in a long time, the clouds were dark grey. They are occasionally a light, overcast, "don't worry, we are going to burn off soon" grey, but the clouds this morning are a dark, menacing/promising grey.
Over lunch with a friend, the subject of travelling while disabled (more accurately, I suppose, mobility impaired) came up. My friend observed that people are so vulnerable when we travel. We don't know quite what will happen when we get to wherever we are going, whether our stuff will arrive, how we will manage when we get there.... The smallest things matter: where am I going to get good coffee? Will the bed work? We both sort of remarked on how that vulnerability was legible in travellers' bodies and faces and, in particular, in the faces and bodies of those who find themselves in airport wheelchairs. This got me going and I promised to write about this.
When I cruise through airports, some of the most miserable looking people I see are not the stressed families or harried business travellers; they are the people stuffed into airport wheelchairs. I've remarked on and off on the state of airport wheelchairs. They are, for the most part, pieces of crap. And that's fine. Because no one actually sits in them for more than a couple of minutes. They are efficient for the pusher (I think) and uncomfortable for the user, but effective at getting people to their destinations.
Expectations and Envy
The expectations we have of ourselves and of our bodies define us -- and not just because we have a particular diagnosis or not. You expect to be able to do what your body can do on a daily basis.
So much good work is happening. So much progress. So much change. And yet, sometimes the smallest things are what strike: kerb cuts.
From the NYT: Amputees, meanwhile, regularly pay out-of-pocket to remove healthy tissue to make room for more powerful technology (and, in the case of double leg amputees, maybe gain a few inches of height in the bargain). “People will get a second amputation — move their amputation up their leg — to get the prosthetic equivalent of a hotter car,” says a prosthetic company representative.
Seriously? I mean surgery for a hotter car?
No, as far as I know, I haven't been hacked nor had my identity stolen in the now common use of it. And long may it stay that way. I do wonder though why we use "identity theft" the phrase to describe fraudulent use of our data. In the short term, the phrase presupposes that we are our data; at least, if I have access to your data, I can perpetrate acts that lead others to operate under the assumption that I am you. And for all intents and purposes, I am you. Except that I am not.
For as long as we (mainstream US culture) continues to reflexively think, act, and plan as though inclusiveness means racial and ethnic diversity, we will not succeed in building a better world. Inclusiveness does not just happen on a vertical axis of majority white culture to minority race culture or minority LGBTQ culture. It must happen horizontally as well.
Individual experiences may some day become a groundswell strong enough to change the world; systemic justice may get there first, however.
Once the "Oh-shit" moment has passed, what then? How do you -- how do people -- deal with diagnosis, chronic illness, and disability? KQED, my local CA NPR station, has this program they call "Health Dialogues." It being holiday season, suffused with tidings of comfort and joy, they decide to program a show of inspiring stories. Of hope, courage, and bravery: "Join us this December as Health Dialogues shares stories of how health - and sickness - have affected people's lives and humbled them, bringing joy, sorrow and sometimes even inspiration."
Even Private Practice (yes, I know, ... but there's an actual wheelchair user) had a good take on this question. In a personal crisis, the Naomi character demands of the wheelchair user how he came to terms with the worst day of his life, the day he heard the news about his legs, how did he go on? The wheelchair user comes back with a question about why she would make such assumptions about his disability.
Wizard and I listened to the show carefully. The virtual absence of the "disability" word was striking, but by most other standards, the quality of the show was pretty high. It offered some race and class perspectives, and it showcased stories from different perspectives -- a career woman, a caregiver, family history, a community, a family life.
Post concludes with one of my favourite early blog pictures. Edited in sepia, I lean over the side of the chair to listen to the wheels, arms spread in an embrace. The background is a soft sepia semi-circle that embraces me as I embrace my chair.