“We think. That’s why we dance.”

Tuesday 3rd May, 2011 | Posted by Polly Rodgers

The starting point of the conversation between ballet dancer Loipa Araújo and psychoanalyst Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra was the controversial film “Black Swan” which portrays a difficult relationship between teacher and student based on humiliation, ridicule and an attack on self-esteem. Araújo joined the Ballet Nacional de Cuba as a teenager but by the age of 21, she was already teaching. She did not stop dancing but, as she stated, it was through her teaching that she learnt how to dance. So her long experience as a ballet instructor was what drove the focus of the conversation.

In a classroom, a teacher has to confront different personalities. From Araujo’s point of view, what one teaches first is respect. A class should not be a battle field and that is why humor is important. In ballet, many teachers were previously dancers and thus continue their careers through their pupils. For Loipa, the key is to suggest and never to impose. The idea is to help the students in becoming the best they can be, to encourage them in their dance. In her own words, ballet is hard and painful, and teachers should work just as much as their students and finish mentally and physically drained. A parallel with the psychoanalytic process, both in the consulting room and in the classroom, was drawn by Rodríguez de la Sierra who also compared the role of the ballet teacher with that of the psychoanalytic supervisor.

The intellectual capacity of ballet dancers has long been questioned. It is often said that they are first in line in terms of physical talent but last when it comes to intelligence. However, Loipa holds a different view: “We think. That’s why we dance.” Ballet is not just about putting steps together. Ballet is about connecting to the world, to physics, music, literature, among other subjects. Rodríguez de la Sierra praised the intelligence of dancers such as Alicia Alonso, Tamara Rojo and Rudolf Nureyev to name but a few.

Dance has evolved, techniques have changed and teachers have to stay updated. Otherwise, as Araújo says, ballet will eventually die. The lack of choreographers, Kenneth MacMillan being an exception, is a serious problem for the survival of ballet. Fortunately, opera is not experiencing the same problems as there is more creativity within the field..

Finally, going back to the film “Black Swan”, if there is something positive to say, is that it has given popularity to ballet. However, if someone wants to see a more accurate portrait of the ballet world, both Araújo and Rodríguez de la Sierra recommended the films “Red Shoes” (1948) and 1977 “Turning Point” (1977).

Carla Ferrari March 2011

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