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Ballet Talk for Dancers

explaining ballet non-dancers


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I took a male friend (who knows nothing about ballet at all) to nycb's nutcracker. Before the show started he was asking me tons of questions about how much money the dancers make, and how they train, for how long, and what it must take to "make it." I answered his questions as best as I could. I told him that to be in a company such as NYCB it takes years and years of training at a young age. Then he asked..."so...what if you never make it to principal?" "why do they bother if only a select few really make it?" and "why do they do it if there isn't much financial security?" I simply said....because they want to dance. That's what they do. He couldn't grasp this concept at all. He kept saying..."WHY WHY WHY." He even asked why I bother taking ballet at all...or why anyone in their right mind would take ballet at all unless of course they would be guaranteed to become a prinicpal dancer. :wacko: He simply couldn't understand the fact that there are people out there who dance just to dance and that's it. So I asked him why he likes to play tennis. He said...because its fun. Then I asked him why he bothers if he isn't going to ever be the next andy roddick. He just looked at me with a blank stare. :speechless: Anyway...he really did enjoy the show (hes more cultured than most guys) and we just might have a new audience member.

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Assuming your guy likes to play tennis, you made an excellent analogy. If one looks from the top down in almost any enterprise, “why” is a kind of knee-jerk, obvious question. If you look from the bottom up, however, often the world looks very different.

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Just curious: what does your friend do for a living? and why does he do it?


The tennis analogy is a good one, but limited since the friend has no intention of trying to get onto the pro circuit. His only motivation is fun, but that's okay because he supports himself by other means and plays tennis in his spare time.


One might give the analogy of pro sports from the perspective of someone who is actually getting paid to play. The problem with this analogy is that in general we pay sports professionals way more than arts professionals, so there actually is some financial incentive. Perhaps you could have asked him why minor league baseball players play. Or why women keep trying to start sports leagues. (Slightly off-topic, but HBO is airing a terrific documentary on the ascendance of the US Women's Soccer Team in the '90s; it gives a fabulous look at the "we just wanted to keep playing" rationale.)


The question he's asking is why would anyone take a job with limited financial prospects. We actually have many examples of jobs and professions that society undervalues financially. Teaching and nursing come to mind. Why do people enter professions like these? One answer you could give -- assuming you wanted to end this relationship, whatever its nature -- is "because some people by their nature are willing to donate their minds and services to society at an undervalued price, for their own well-being and for the good of the society; others are willing to take away from the social good by accepting more resources for their contribution than is fair or just."


(Sorry, apparently I'm feeling a bit testy this morning. I'm not actually sure I feel this way at all, but I wrote it so everyone else can comment if they like.)

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What I was trying to make him understand...that he wasn't understanding was that some peoples professions are not based on money or stardom (as in becoming a principal). Especially with a profession such as performing arts. I believe that alot of dancers absolutley love what they do for a living....and how many people can really say that? He on the other hand rationalized it like..."well, if you spend your whole life working for something and there is a slim chance you will achieve it (such as becoming a principal for nycb) then wouldn't your whole life be wasted?" Of course I could have continued to tell him about how many dancers stop dancing when they are teens because of the competiton and amount of disipline and focus it takes....and how there are much more opportunities in the dance world besides becoming a principal....but the show was starting. Also...he wondered why an adult would dance. And thats why my tennis thing came into play. I said...well why would you play tennis three times a week? So the tennis analogy was more about comparing an adult recreational student then a professional ballerina.

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But isn't the analogy with quite a lot of things - to put it far less tactfully than Treefrog, why does your friend do what he does? how high has he got in his chosen occupation? and how much money does he make? Well, these are rhewtorical questions - I don't really want the detail! But a lot of people (maybe the majority?) spend their lives working in the middle or lower "ranks" - in the corps de travail as it might be put (French is not really my second or even third language!!) The French actually have a slang term for the routine of ordinary every day work: "Metro/boulot/dodo" We find other things which absorb us, if we have a job which is basically there to pay the rent. On the other hand, some of us are lucky to do what we love and be paid for it, but some of us aren't and we find other things. I don't think ballet as a profession is any different ... Why would anyone see t diffrerently?


But, Kellylyn, great news about a new audience member & enthusiastic spectator! You did a good thing there.

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