Jonathon Levy is a former principal dancer in the USA, and Ballet master both overseas and in the USA. He has owned his own studio, and works in the field training young aspirant dancers. When he owned his school, his company was the subject for a thesis on Business management (BS in BusAdmin/NfP), following the Schein organizational ideology for corporate development and internal-culture. http://www.ballettrainingcentre.com The following post was originally submitted by Jonathon as a reply on my Research Purpose page.
I will have to do this in a few stages… for me motivation becomes a “cliché” – I was on-tour one year dancing in a small company that was trying to use touring as a way of building a base audience regionally… we got to one place where there had been some snafu’s regrading our performance times, and to make up for it the local news station came and did interviews with a few of us at the theatre in an attempt to get ticket info out to the public. The question I was asked was “Do you make adjustments if there are smaller audiences? and I said, ‘I don’t, this is what I do, I’m a dancer, I would do this whether the audience shows up or not.”
I pursued the “to be a dancer” idea after I got some positive feedback from girls in high school, yet then after about four months and going to a real summer intensive program, a real ballerina and a principal male dancer looked at me and said: “do you want this as your career?” I didn’t think about it, I just said “how?” – That was the moment I “made the decision” to become a professional dancer. I think I was still trying to ‘become a professional dancer’ when I retired twenty years later as a principal dancer (and Guest Artist) from what was considered one of the top 15 or 20 companies in the USA.
For me motivation was never the idea, or should I say the idea of motivating myself was never an issue… I made the decision and I just never stopped confronting myself with the fact that I made the decision, there was nothing else – I didn’t have a supportive family, I didn’t have any “safety-net” – in a very real way it was all I had so I just figured I had to do it… so I did.
I will try to write more later… I’m now a ballet master, and I have found a lot of compassion for those who feel driven…
Edit December 24 2012: Jonathon continues this discussion in a comment below from “The Training Centre For Artistic Endeavors Unlimited”
About this time last year, a wonderful gentleman from The Australian Ballet named Colin Peasley welcomed me to the Sydney Opera House to watch the company behind the scenes. I spent three hours or so talking to him, and watching the dancers in class and rehearsal. And whilst I did not know it at the time, I was watching Darcey Bussell from the Royal Ballet conducting the class – more here. Twelve months on, it is time for me to take stock of what continues to motivate me to do research into professional ballet dancers. Since motivation is the theme of my study, it stands to reason that I should examine my own changing circumstances.
Judith Lynne Hanna, Ph.D. is affiliated with the University of Maryland. Hanna’s doctorate in anthropology at Columbia University focused on dance. She has been a dance critic and written many books and articles on dance published in numerous countries where she has given guest lectures and courses. This essay draws from her book Dancing for Health: Conquering and Preventing Stress. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2006, which explains the physical harm of prolonged stress. See www.judithhanna.com
Ballet dancers vary tremendously in terms of what motivates them as they progress through their careers. Here are some factors that affect their decision-making to participate in this artistic realm.
A passionate commitment, a calling, is inherent in classical ballet. Dancers study from the age of eight for 10 years before they might—just might—move in a way that is interesting and beautiful to watch. Few students reach a professional level. “As professionals we work 12 hours a day for six days a week. We inhabit an environment of order, routine, discipline, beauty and youth. Our obsessive preoccupation with physical perfection is the external result of a deep, silent, and very private spiritual commitment,” wrote Toni Bentley who danced with New York City Ballet, one of the world’s most prestigious dance organizations. Most professional ballet dancers forego college, although some companies now encourage dancers to take university courses in their free time while they are with the company.
Gregory Day is a dancer living in Chicago. His experience in dance spans ballet to ballroom, including US and World titles. He is a United States National Judge for ballroom, an examiner for DVIDA, a dance teacher for amateurs and professionals, a dance school owner, and formerly a dance competition organizer. He also has a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University. Find him at facebook.com/johngregoryday or twitter.com/gregoryday or chicagodance.com
How have my motivations changed during my career as a dancer ?
Why do any of us dance? What keeps bringing a dancer back to the studio day after day? We all have our own very personal reasons why we dance and what motivates us changes over time.
I’ve been blessed to have a long career as a dancer with experience performing as a ballet and modern dancer and competing on the ballroom floor. I’ve had both strong internal and external motivations and I want to share some of what has inspired me to continue to dance
DiabloBallet @DiabloBallet recently posted on twitter:
“Don’t dance for the audience; dance for yourself.” Bob Fosse #dance #ballet
I imagine most professional ballet dancers balance their thinking between performing for an audience and dancing to meet their own desires. Do you favour one way of thinking over the other and how does this influence your motivation? Dancers often claim that they dance because it is part of their being, so I would expect that dancing just for an audience would be de-motivating.
Personally, I don’t think it is likely to come down to audience vs. yourself, rather both elements play an important part in a dancer’s life. What do you think?
A reader recently asked me how I developed my interest in ballet. It is not that I ever danced when I was younger, so why the sudden interest? The answer I gave him has reminded me how much I have missed out on by only now discovering the joy of dance. Last year, I took some absolute beginner ballet classes and really loved it. Unfortunately I have left it a bit late in life and my co-ordination is not up to taking my dancing seriously.
But that is not the end of my interest since my research will enable me to live vicariously through the dancing of others. Here is a version of how I answered the reader who I mentioned earlier.
My interest in ballet, is a fortunate amalgamation of two interests. I have been a subscriber to The Australian Ballet for a number of years and have seen every performance of theirs’ in this time. I have very much enjoyed it. However, it took on a far more interesting turn when I decided I could blend this interest with my other love, cultural anthropology. As a very mature age student, I received an honours degree in anthropology in 2004 and started tutoring undergrad courses in the subject. All this time I was looking for a cultural setting I could research for a postgrad degree. After a number of false starts looking at topics that led to little interest on my part, it occurred to me the middle of last year that I could study professional ballet dancers as a cultural group. I started doing a lot of reading and working through social networking groups and this blog and discovered that as a cultural grouping, professional dancers in general have not received the attention they deserve from ethnographic research. By this I mean, a great deal can be learned from spending an extended period of time observing and interacting with dancers in an extended fieldwork setting. With this in mind I have contacted local full time ballet companies and I am looking at others overseas.
BRING IN THE BALLERINAS A.B.T.’s guest policy.
by Joan Acocella
JUNE 25, 2012
ABSTRACT: DANCING about American Ballet Theatre’s guest dancers. A.B.T. has long been known for bringing in foreign guest stars. The fondness for guest stars ruled out any unity of style within the troupe.
This article started me thinking about dancer motivation when considering opportunities for promotion and acquiring coveted roles. Here in Australia, The Australian Ballet has a very strong company of full time contracted dancers. Only very occasionally do guest dancers appear in performances and looking from afar , it would seem these guest appearances would do little to threaten the motivation of company dancers. Indeed, I expect these guest appearances would have positive effect on motivation.
Of course, motivation is a fickle thing in any endeavour. An event that may threaten one dancer, may encourage another. This raises the question, at what point could you expect guest appearances in a performance to systemically affect the motivational well being of the company? It would be great to hear from professional dancers of their experience and thoughts in this regard. Either comment on this post, or if you prefer use the contact page to send me a message and I will make your comments known but anonymous.
This video from “The Atlantic” shows a Pas de Deux from the visual perspective of the dancers. However, without experiencing other senses such as embodied movement, position in space, and the physical presence of the partner, etc, it is impossible for the viewer to substantially feel the dance. As a complete novice to dancing ballet (a few classes only), I find the video is jarring to my senses – as the introduction warns. It gives me no real feeling of what it is like to dance. I would expect the viewer’s sensual response to the video would depend significantly on their own experience of ballet dancing. It would be interesting to hear from professional and student dancers what they experience when they watch this video. Tell me how it makes you feel and what your level of dance experience is. Also, what do you think of the argument I have made?
I feel I should write something just to let readers know that I am still busy working on this project. A week ago I sent a proposal to a ballet company seeking approval to conduct fieldwork (ethnography) with their dancers next year. Subject to gaining that, I need to put together a far more detailed research proposal for an application to enter into a postgraduate research degree. I have almost finished reading some popular journals on dance in Australia and now need to start on the five books I have got out of the university library. These books are more academic and look mostly at the anthropology of topics including ballet, dance and the body.
The popular journals have tended to talk about performances and have some interviews with dancers. Whilst this material is useful, I need far more detailed information. I guess that is why I need to do fieldwork
I am considering the notion of “development stages” of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Clearly, any career has developmental stages towards becoming a fully proficient professional. However, professional ballet dancers are somewhat unique in that their development starts at a very young age, even if they do not know they are headed in that direction. And somewhat ironically, their career as a dancer also ends at a relatively young age. For my research, I would like to identify a reasonable trajectory of these stages of a dancers career. Below is a list of what I think are some obvious stages of development. It would be naive of me to think that these are the only stages and indeed that these ones are necessarily an accurate reflection of a dancers reality. Would anyone like to comment on what they think of the list and offer additions, elaborations or modifications from their own experience? Would there be better descriptions to replace any of these?
The developmental stages I have identified in (presumably) chronological order are:
Very young novice – first steps
Young enthusiast – becoming enthusiastic in ballet as an art/discipline
Advanced student – professional “in-training”
Beginning professional – Apprentice or Corps de Ballet in a part/full-time capacity in a company
Intermediate professionals – Soloists and Coryphées
Senior professionals – Senior and Principal Artists
Ageing (sic) dancer – significant experience yet on the road to retirement
Your input to this part of my research would be very valuable. Thank you in advance.