My Pools of Inspiration
At this point in my career, after ten years as a professional ballet dancer, I find myself being asked these three questions quite often: How do I stay inspired, what do I strive for now, and how do I deal with the struggles that come with ballet stardom? Sometimes I don’t know how to answer. It’s not like I think about these topics all the time; I just do them. After several inadequate attempts to answer, I’ve decided to consider these important inquiries. I’ve discovered that their answers are more important to me than I thought, and even more so if I am hoping to still keep reaching for my peak. I certainly hope I’m not there yet. In this blog I’ll tackle inspiration, and I’ll follow up with two additional blogs to complete the answers to these questions.
Finding inspiration is always the quest of every good artist. Or, really anyone who hopes to keep motivated throughout life.
Finding inspiration is always the quest of every good artist. Or, really anyone who hopes to keep motivated throughout life. You know, I could say that I find inspiration in watching videos of older retired ballerinas that I’ve admired, which is true, but it’s a commonly accepted answer and I want to answer deeper than that. I do love to watch my peers from the wings. Seeing the sweat, the faces they make that the audience never sees, hearing them breath and shout off stage, and all the other aspects like that makes me feel better about how I feel when I’m out there. It makes me proud of them to know how tired they are, how much pain they’re in, or how difficult a certain passage of a ballet is for them and witnessing how much they still love it and perform for the audience. I love that about this craft and hope that it shines through in my dancing.
I also love watching performances from the audience. Whether it is my own company, or another, I am still awed at how much the audience does see. I will always remember my ballet teachers telling me that even if I was in the back line of the corps de ballet, the audience could still see me, so I had better do my best. They weren’t lying. I never more appreciate that than when sitting in the first ring of the David H. Koch Theater. Of course, this is the theater my company, New York City Ballet, performs in, so I can watch from there often, but wow, can you really see the dancers! I love to pick out those girls just living in the back corner. Marcia was right, there is always someone in that audience looking at you. Marcia Dale Weary was my main ballet teacher growing up at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.
And of course with this new fangled online invention called YouTube, I can view my contemporaries around the world. This of course is not an artistic inspiration, just a physical, technique and self-equivalency evaluation. As I’ve traveled and performed more and more on the gala circuit, I’ve become friends with some of ballet’s very elite and do really enjoy watching how they are shaping the future of ballet and dance and comparing myself and possibly contributing to that as well.
I really try not to be too hard on myself.
I’ll talk about one last popular source of inspiration before I get to my unique pools. I love to watch younger dancers in class for corrections. With each new year comes a new crop of apprentices. And an aspect I love is that it usually takes a few years to iron out the kinks before each new member really looks like a part of the company. It’s not always true, but it’s a generally accepted fact. Looking back at my perceptions of how I danced my first few years in the company and of course the video proof, there are many, MANY things that I strongly dislike and have made huge efforts to change and correct. There was the use of my feet, my arms, and my lack of fluidity in adagio to name a few. I really try not to be too hard on myself. After all I was only sixteen, but in the pursuit of perfection toughness is necessary. In thinking this way, I am equally hard, at least silently in my head, on the new generation. I am a watcher in class, constantly scrutinizing others technique. This is not to fault the other dancers. It is to ask myself whether I am doing something similar.
As some of you may know, I am also a teacher. It is important to ask yourself as a dancer and teacher whether you practice what you preach. Sometimes I ask myself while I’m teaching if I’m actually applying the corrections I’m giving my students. And I can say, it’s truly amazing to find a new part of my technique to work on, while instructing someone else to do the same.
Now, I’ll move onto my private inspirations. I find inspiration through artists in other fields. Some of my friends are sketchers and painters. I find it incredibly inspiring that an entire piece of art can come from one person, one idea, one thing. Choreographers are the same. I’ve tried my hand at choreography, and I’m not saying I won’t try again sometime, but I don’t think it is my strong suit. I think of myself as a good interpreter, not a creator. To make something from nothing, especially something great is just awing to me. What is it within this person that produced this incredible piece of art? Do I have that? It makes me delve deeper.
I never feel more alive than onstage. That’s not to say it is every show, but there are those nights when I just want to relive every moment a thousand times.
A very unlikely inspirational source for me is actually my dog, Scout. She is almost seven years old and a beagle. And really cute! But a dog is a free spirit. She feels raw emotion and shows me how she feels always. She is open, whether she is ashamed and sorry for getting in the trashcan or overjoyed that I’ve just walked through the door. I see it in her eyes and hear it in her whimper or cry. It makes me want to be that uncensored too. But where can you do that? I don’t think I have to tell you that place is onstage. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I never feel more alive than onstage. That’s not to say it is every show, but there are those nights when I just want to relive every moment a thousand times.
Of course there are dozens of sources of lesser daily inspiration experienced in life, but these are some main things that I constantly refer to for my artistic career. Even writing this article has encouraged me to open my eyes wider and take in more. The depth of the pools of inspiration are endless. It just takes the courage and thought to dive in.
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