Growing up, I felt no reserve on stage. I loved pretending to be someone else on stage, transmitting stories and ideas through the near-sacred junction of music and movement. I struggled with the technical side of the art. True, I was blessed with natural coordination and musicality, but my body was naturally inflexible, flat-footed and stumpy. Luckily, beginning ballet at such a young age magically molded decent (though by no-means incredible) arches into my feet while focus and discipline helped me gain the technical strength I needed. By my late teens my whole situation had flip-flopped: I was so concentrated on my technique that my performing became more reserved, safer, boring.
Since then, I've struggled daily in finding the right balance. Maybe balance isn't the right word--maybe it's about extremes: extreme technique AND extreme artistry. That's what makes dancers memorable. But how can we achieve that? I used to think the answer was to help students develop artistry at a younger age. Most teachers don't begin working with students on the artistic and creative side of their dancing until adolescents, which is also the time students become the most self-conscious. As I teach classes of my own, I wonder how to integrate elements of acting into the ballet curriculum without 1) teaching a full-blown pantomime class or 2) distracting students from the technical foundation that is so important in early training.
What do you think? Should instructors bring artistry into the classroom earlier? If so, how?