Posts Tagged ‘research’

Since this blog is about cultural anthropology as much as it is about dance, I thought readers may be interested in this video of my favourite lecturer talking about studying anthropology at a university Open Day. You won’t find any mention of dance, but you will hear Greg talking about what anthropologists do and why they do it. He also talks about some of the specialist areas that his department members research. It is my desire to use such an approach to research what motivates professional ballet dancers. As Greg says towards the end of the presentation:

“Anthropologists are the off-road vehicles of the social science world.” We take theory and try to see what is really happening out there, and not just on the eight-lane super highway of science or the safe parking lot of the psychology laboratory or the city grid of surveys in sociology.

[youtube http://youtu.be/O7OZ7NlQopg]

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I am still making slow progress with finding a company that will agree to me conducting fieldwork. I have received rejections from two ballet companies regarding fieldwork with them. I still have two more proposals outstanding with other companies but I am having trouble making contact with the persons who may be able to approve me spending four to six months with their company of dancers. So far I have only tried ballet companies in Australia and New Zealand. There are any number overseas that I could consider but they would need to be English speaking since the degree I am considering has no time available to learn another language. Do any of my readers have any thoughts on the matter? Is anyone willing to suggest this proposal to their company? If so, contact me and we will chat. Research overseas will cost a lot more in expenses, so if anyone is aware of any scholarships that may support such research I would be very interested.

UPDATE: Mike Barnes – Fieldwork Proposal document. This proposal mentions the first half of 2013, but it may have to slip to the second half at this late stage.

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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?

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I would like to extend an invitation to pre-professional ballet dancers to participate in discussions in this blog. Whilst the primary focus of my research is with professional dancers, the thoughts and aspirations of pre-professionals about to embark on their career are most welcome. There are already followers here from the professional and academic ranks, along with teachers and retired dancers. The voice of pre-professionals would provide the broadest perspective to the motivations of ballet dancers today.

So jump in and make a comment, test the water, it is warm and friendly here, just like the world of dance in general.

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In April 2012, the Miami City Ballet announced Lourdes Lopez as their new Artistic Director commencing early 2013. Ms Lopez will be replacing Edward Villella who is the current and founding (1985) Artistic Director of the company. Closer to home in Australia, the WA Ballet Artistic Director Ivan Cavallari is calling it quits at the end of 2012 after overseeing five highly successful seasons. At the time of writing this post, the WA Ballet’s web site shows the job on its positions vacant page! Also in Australia, the Queensland Ballet has announced that Li Cunxin (Mao’s Last Dancer) has been appointed the new Artistic Director starting in July 2012 replacing current Artistic Director François Klaus who will leave at the end of 2012. Mr Klaus took up the current post in January 1998.

It is not unusual for Artistic Directors to occupy their positions for a significant period of time. Ivan Cavallari’s five seasons at the WA Ballet is comparatively short. So what does the prospect of working with a new director mean for professional ballet dancers? After all, their occupation is not the only one in which employees have had to “retrain their boss” (old joke).

In Pointe Magazine Online, there is an article that addresses this subject – “Company Life: A Change of Directors”. The bottom line for dancers is that they can expect some fairly significant changes in their day-to-day working and artistic life.

But while a change of leadership can make you feel suddenly vulnerable, it’s also an opportunity. The reevaluation process isn’t a one-way street: It’s a chance for you to reassess your place in the company, too. It can be the push you need, either to rededicate yourself to the path you’ve been following or to be proactive about finding a new one. And whether you end up staying with the company or leaving, you’ll get to work with a new person who will stretch and challenge you in different ways (Pointe Magazine Online)

Changes at this time are brought about by the fact that Artistic Directors significantly influence the artistic direction of the company, and they all have a different take on what that direction should be. For example, the AD has preferences for repertoire, the number of dancers required, the type and look of dancers, and how performances are going to be scheduled. These preferences have consequential affects on the company’s dancers. For example, they may affect their opportunity for promotion, both positively or negatively. They may also result in more or less opportunities to dance in desired productions.

My earlier joke about retraining your boss is really a statement about how you may work with a new manager. However, an Artistic Director is not really like any other kind of boss. Hopefully she has vision and that vision will permeate throughout the entire company. If, as a dancer you find your dreams match the AD’s vision then adjustment may be reasonably smooth. If not, then you are in for a rough ride. And it doesn’t help that there are comparatively few positions globally available for top dancers to move around in. Add to that the fact that dancers have to deal with reasonably short careers and you start to see why a certain anxiety may occur with the appointment of a new AD.

Which brings me to motivation. Dancers are motivated to dance for many reasons, some of which are internally sourced (intrinsic), such as the love of dancing, movement and performance. Other more external influences motivate dancers (extrinsic), such as opportunity to dance specific roles in specific productions, or promotion through the ranks. I suspect that intrinsic motivations will remain fairly constant through a change of directorship (Kamarova, 2010). However, it is the extrinsic motivations that are challenged by a change in leadership. A dancer with very strong intrinsic drive may push through any setbacks caused by a change in direction or may decide they can get a better deal elsewhere. On balance, there may also be positive aspects from a dancer’s perspective of the incoming Artistic Director. Take for example a change of repertoire that may favour taller or shorter dancers for key roles.

A change of Artistic Director is only one of many possible reasons that a professional dancer may have to question their own motivations for being where they are at a given point in time in their career. It is all of these varied changes and resultant motivational directions that are of interest to my research. If you wish to comment on anything I have said, or how you may be involved in the above scenarios, please do.

Twitter references: @MiamiCityBallet @WABallet @qldballet @pointemagazine @mikebarnes50

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Just a quick update to let my readers know that I received a rejection letter today regarding fieldwork at the ballet company I applied to. It is back to the drawing board. I need to consider if I am willing to try this with another company. There are others in Australia and there are any number of overseas companies that I could consider. Do you have any thoughts on the matter? Is anyone reading willing to suggest this to their company? If so, contact me and we will chat. For now, I will start finding out a bit more about some other companies.

UPDATE: Mike Barnes – Fieldwork Proposal document.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: My circumstances have changed with plans for fieldwork hitting a wall. Please see this later post.

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Thank you to Dolly Williams for this post on her iamdollywilliams blog. It brought to our attention a video that I have included below from The Royal Ballet on the subject of motivation. Since my research interest is in the various forms of motivation through the career of a  ballet dancer, the video makes a good starting point from which to discuss this subject.

It has been my observation that when you ask a dancer what motivates them, two possible approaches are given as answers. The first is mostly reflected by this video and many of the interviews that I read. The question is answered along the lines of what motivated them to start thinking of becoming a (professional) ballet dancer. Interestingly, this approach addresses a snapshot in time and the video talks to the subject of how dreams turn into hard work.

The second approach to answers to this question look at what keeps a dancer motivated and will be a larger part of my research. This form of the question/answer usually result in responses that refer to a dancer’s perceived need to dance. Answers in this category include, “I need to”, “provides me with meaning”, “it is how I communicate”, “movement is a part of my life”, “it is my true self, my spirit”. All of these answers internalise how they feel and consequently I could suggest they have in common that they make the dancer feel good. Many careers make their practitioners feel good, but many more are ambivalent on this point. Even when they do make a person feel good, it may vary with degree and through time. For dancers, this may be more constant.

However, to be respectful to those who choose dance as a career, I suspect there is a lot more to a dancer’s motivation than a simple addiction to feeling good. What makes a dancer keep going when they fail to get that role or promotion that they have been working so hard for? More so, what keeps them elevated after the initial euphoria of successfully getting a coveted role or promotion? All of these ideas are central to my research and I welcome any thoughts or anecdotes that readers may have. Anonymity is possible if you want to contact me directly.

The Royal Ballet on Motivation

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