The other week I was in class with Fab Teacher and we were were getting ready for petit allegro, lining up eight at a time to do the steps towards the mirror. There’s always a bit of a shuffle as we figure out eight leaders, and line up behind them. A couple of girls got in muddle about groups, and then kind of mouthed Oh it doesn’t matter to each other and sort of formed their own ninth group shoved in the middle somewhere.
Of course, I’m thinking Nooo, it does matter! And, of course, I’m not going to say that and sound a total douche am I? But come on, there is no way this man who has trained most of his life in a performative art isn’t going to notice. This man notices a tendu that needs help in a roomful of people!
And so music off, class stop, we all start again. Fab Teacher might say something like People aren’t going to pay 120 quid a seat to watch that sloppiness on the tour I’ve booked us on this Summer, or something equally hilarious. But then comes the realness – this is formation work. This is ballet training!
I don’t mind starting a sequence again, and I’m not frustrated with these particular people in class, but this little episode made me think about formation. We’re not a corps de ballet, and we don’t have to arrange ourselves on a stage. We could be forgiven for thinking – what does it matter?
It’s the ethos of ballet isn’t it? It’s why we do it, and not ballet barre or pilates or something. (We do those too, but as training for the main event!) If ballet could be said to have a theory – or a manifesto, or a way of explaining life – the discipline of formation would be a huge part of it. And the particular ethos of dancing as an adult amateur adds layers to this. There’s never going to be a performance – we’re internalising and working with the beauty and strangeness of ballet for its own sake, not for some projected end-point where we’ll be seen and appreciated or judged.
I’ll be honest, this can sometimes sit oddly with me, the same way I can appreciate the beauty of a tutu and pointes (and want them for myself) and yet feel critical of the culture which prizes them.
There must be books about ballet theory out there somewhere, but I haven’t read them. But – if we were to write down our own Ballet Ways of Living, from our own lived experience as amateurs (lovers!) – what might it start to say?