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  • Nicole (Johnson) Williams

33. the left shoe on the right foot 

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

I have spent the past week grounding myself in a physical exploration of my ballet practice and trying to understand where it lives in my personal body. It has served multiple purposes over the break from teaching I’ve had this week: 1) to prepare a well-structured class for my students upon their return, 2) to thoroughly prepare my body before working on my Artistic Experiment, and 3) to pinpoint the benefits of a disciplined daily ballet routine. Although the goal of a daily practice was ambitions (it ended up being more like 3 times per week), an intentional effort proved to also be beneficial. Having multiple hours to work out the class combinations, along with multiple days to revisit those combinations, was integral to deciphering what a dancing body could extract from this form in service to the story. 

I found that after completing the hour and a half ballet class, the movements and comportment still radiated in my body when I switched over to the contemporary modern choreography. This radiation made me move in longing, reaching, and sweeping movements that were nice, but at times still felt counterintuitive to the watery, fluid, and grounded story that feels more natural in my body. Although I pay special attention to breath and elongation (grounding through the floor, lifting through the head, and stretching through the fingertips) throughout the class, there is still an ever-present prioritization of a correctness that feels… incorrect for the occasion. Even when using breath and connection to support a balance, pose, or extension those movements are still hard for me to place as a part of this story.

As I moved through the class, I reflected on the function of each exercise. I took note of the movement characteristics I was using to prepare my body. This movement was controlled, stable, rotated, and maintained. And while there are elements of these aesthetics in the choreography, the general feeling of the piece is rolling, fluid, and grounded.

I also thought a lot about ballet’s own movement story. While ballet is always evolving into a better and more inclusive versions of itself, it is imperative to remember the traumas that are contained deep within the movement; the traumas that we evoke and give voice to each time we call upon its name. This trauma is born of oppression, hierarchy, silencing, perfection. And yet, these are stories of resistance, revolution, and perseverance; an energy that exists just below the surface, whose fullness is kept orderly… agreeable.  

No, ballet will never do for this vignette. By the time we get to this part in the full work, the woman has been stripped down to her core. She has been awakened, tried to hold her composure, surrendered to the process, and now we meet her alone; at the center of her own thoughts, grappling with the duplicity of her many realities. Here, she receives her power from her truest self in the form of her ancestors, her inner dialog, and her environment. Water all around. There is nothing held or composed about this story. 

When I went into the studio for these class/rehearsal sessions, I had hoped that my warm-up class would inform/season the movement I would improvise to fill in the parts I had noted in my last session. However, although my body was warm and prepared to dance, my improv felt as if I was running a race with the left shoe on the right foot. The tools I had prepared did not match the task at hand. Furthermore, the constant aspiration for higher/more/better leaves me feeling inadequate and judgmental of my movement, especially when I watch it back on video. My feet are never pointed enough. My leg is never high enough. My body never looks quite like the images I intentionally or unintentionally envision (long, extended, rotated, slim, white). 

I have also begun to dig into a book entitled Turning Pointe by Chloe Angyal, which I will be teaching from this term. The first chapter discusses ballet’s hidden curriculum, or the “unofficial and sometimes unintentional lessons students pick up from the way the class is structured or conducted, and the way students are treated,” (Angyal, 2021). Dance diversity consultant, Theresa Ruth Howard’s keynote remarks at Positioning Ballet conference are quoted in the book, explaining that through this hidden curriculum women and girls are taught, “to physically submit, to disregard their feelings, and most injuriously to be silent about the first two” (Howard, 2019). 

This truth about the way ballet lives in my body felt inconsistent with the voice necessary to tell this story.

01. The book I’m reading

02. Rehearsing the piece

03. The feeling in the right corner

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