Dancers’ hidden talents
Dear Ms B.,
I don’t know much because to many I’m not qualified but I do know this…
From years of dancing on stage I can walk into a room and if I pretend it’s a theatre I can tell you its dimensions in metres at a glance. Why? Because I’ve measured so many theatres by walking them that I can just feel the space. It’s a dancer thing.
Did you know if I were to execute a pirouette en arabesque (that’s with your leg lifted behind you Ms B.) and we weren’t standing a metre and half away from each other, you might get hit and I might get an ugly bruise for my troubles? If I was performing a grand allegro sequence (that’s a very fast and skilful and potentially dangerous series of steps Ms B.) across the floor and we weren’t spaced at least two metres from one another I might accidentally break your ankle, or worse, if we were just that little bit out of sync. Sadly, I know this because I broke a girl’s ankle in New York because she was a little slow to take off in a leap and I landed on her back foot. As I watched her get carted off by the paramedics I realised we both learned about risk minimisation through spatial distancing the hard way that day. So I guess you could say that spatially distancing at a metre and a half away from the next person in a social context is a piece of cake in contrast.
Can I tell you a little story Ms B.? Quite a few years before this Covid crisis turned our lives inside out I had a dancer who had a cough. Just the week before he’d cried wolf, said he was sick, turns out he had a tummy ache from gorging on a tub of ice cream the night before. No word of a lie Ms B. I tell you, tried it on he did. I mean dance can be very physically challenging, so I kind of understand – he was tired. The next week he said he was feeling really bad. I thought he was crying wolf and just had the sniffles, but I bought him a face mask and we had hand sanitizer on tap any time there was body contact between him and another cast member. This was in 2009 Ms B. Way before we were singing ‘my Corona’ and avoiding the bevvie of the same name.
Of course, if I were in that situation now I’d tell that poor unfortunate, but very talented sod, to stay at home. Sadly, as a dancer/ choreographer our budget was very slim and certainly didn’t cater for any substantial contingencies like an understudy, so I told him to suck it up. In case you don’t realise Ms B jobs for artists are thin on the ground at the best of times, the fact that we’re often overlooked often puts us in very precarious situations, so you’ll have to forgive me my poor decision making as desperation often drives us down the road to stupidity. Although I’d like to think that I too have the capacity to learn and that a bit of empathy and commonsense go a long way.
As a dancer I practise very good hygiene. I mean, could you imagine how awful it would be if I were gymnastically entwined with one of my moving compadres and my underarms, my clothes and my breath stank or my hands or my feet and fingernails were dirty? I would be told that I was being inconsiderate to my peers and profession. It’s just not the done thing.
Also, I have a really good memory because when I’m dancing not only do I have to know what I’m doing at any point within a long piece of music but I have to know what those around me are doing, in relationship to me, the space AND the music.
By the way, did you know dance is one of those things that’s meant to get the endorphins going, lift your spirits? Just the mental antidote in a time of crisis eh! Dance is also said to keep dementia at bay, stop you from losing your capacity to reason.
As dancers we have other hidden talents, like knowing what pants make our legs look long and slender, how to smile in front of an undeserving and unresponsive audience, how to manufacture an imaginary fourth wall to keep a mental distance between us (comes in handy in times of crises if used as a psychological de-escalation device) and, most importantly, how to read subtext. When they say the body never lies, it’s true. For example, as a dance teacher I know when somebody in class is having issues with somebody else by reading their body language. When a dancer is having issues with me they tell me through their execution of each movement. When I watched you on TV infer dance teachers in studios are unqualified, I could see that you were out of your depth and responding on the fly. I won’t hold that against you by the way.
So, on the very slim chance that you ever get Covid, you want to hope that you caught it from me because I’ll remember if we had contact and for how long and in what position we were in in relation to one another and you’ll be duly informed. But, of course that’s never going to happen because I’m trained not to get it in the first place.
Vicki Van Hout- DANCER
P.S. If you need to consult a professional regards any of the above, feel free to contact me. My fees are reasonable.
FORM values and advocates for artistic freedom of expression and is the proud publisher of Vicki Van Hout’s blog. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of FORM Dance Projects team and members.