This Is Why I Bother

Melanie Doskocil’s final entry for Ballet’s Un-X-pected Lesson Files this year. Enjoy!

I looked over the group of 5 and 6-year-old budding ballet students.

The girls were all clad in their little yellow and black stripped leotards, little yellow and black tutus, wings, head pieces with cute bouncy antennae. The boys in their striking bug costumes with jet black bodies and iridescent green wings.

I had a can of good old Super Final Net in my hands and wandered amongst them, spraying a wisp of hair here, a clump of bangs there. I checked ears and wrists and fingers for forgotten jewelry, tucked loose draw strings into leather ballet slippers, clipped threads and checked hands for no-no nail polish and pesky pen doodles.

IMAGE Excited little bumble bees IMAGEAs I was grabbing a few bobby pins to tackle a loose bun, one of the guest chaperones whispered loudly to another,

“I don’t know why she bothers; they are only on the stage for about a minute.”

I turned to the kids and said, “OK, Bees and Bugs, are you ready to go dance with your Flower in the Nutcracker?”

One tiny ballerina said to me, “I feel like a fairy princess!”

Then I turned to the parent and said, “THAT’s why I bother.”

Many families are inducted into the ritual of ballet performance during The Nutcracker.

There are strange rules to follow [Read more…]

What a Candy Cane Can Teach About The Virtues of a Dancer

Dancers learn important life lessons younger than most people. Melanie Doskocil adds another page to Ballet’s Un-X-pected Lesson Files illustrating integral qualities that lead to success, not only in dance, but in life.

Knowing her as well as I did, I could see the telltale crease around her eyes as I told her she would be a Candy Cane again in this year’s production of the Nutcracker. Her smile never wavered, her posture never slumped, but the miniscule sign of disappointment was there. She thanked me profusely and walked proudly out of the studio. Even later, when I was in my office and the thin walls amplified the voices coming from the dressing room, I could hear her extolling the virtues of being a Candy Cane to another of this year’s Candy Canes.

IMAGE A candy cane's tabletop reflection forms a heart. IMAGE

Photo by JD Hancock

“Talent notwithstanding,” I thought, “this one will go far in dance.”

This 11-year-old budding ballerina had already learned life lesson number one of being a dancer:

Handle rejection with grace.

Successful dancers learn early that they won’t always get the parts that they want, and later, the jobs they want and the salary they want. They learn to accept these decisions with poise and dignity, instead of throwing a temper tantrum that can have severe and often dire consequences. Dancers are not meekly accepting of what life hands them, however they keep their grace and dignity in the face of adversity, determined to succeed where others might quit.

Accept, even covet, constructive feedback or criticism.

This is another life lesson that dancers learn at an early age.

One day, while teaching my advanced level, I [Read more…]

LINES and Limitations: Ask Yourself This Question

Melanie Doskocil is back this month with another addition to Ballet’s Un-X-pected Lesson Files. This one isn’t about summits (see I’m A Better Backpacker Because of Ballet for that). It’s about limits. Read on…

For the first time in 15 years, one of my all time favorite teachers/choreographers had brought his company to Aspen. Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet was here for one night only. This man who I trained with and learned so much from, who I hadn’t seen in years was in my hometown, and I was sick.

I lay there on my sofa sniffling and groaning and bumming that I could not get up long enough to drive to the theater and watch the show. I’m mad too! I’ve been sick once in the last 2 years and now, NOW I get some nasty bug that knocks me down.

As I lay, drifting in and out of a fevered stupor, it came to me that some of the greatest lessons about life I learned in Alonzo’s studio. From him, from Arturo Fernandez, from simply being in that great facility.

IMAGE A dancer looks tired and sweaty during her dance rehearsal. IMAGE

Photo by Steven Depolo; CC BY 2.0

I was at the very first summer workshop put on by Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet. I won’t tell you how long ago it was. But it was two weeks of the most life altering and gratifying training I’ve ever received.

One particular lesson has stuck with me my whole life:

It was the end of the day. We were in Alonzo’s choreography class, working on putting a whole bunch of movement phrases together.

Everyone was fading. Alonzo was going over time. He asked us to do it one more time and I rolled my eyes looked at the clock. I was STARVING, I was EXHAUSTED, I was really wimping out!

Others started moaning and whining too. With all my body I wanted to flop down on the floor and cry…my eyes welled up with tears and I looked at the clock again, trying to send out that silent plea to let us go.

He was a task master, heartless! Couldn’t he see that we were fading? That our concentration was lagging? Our energy depleted?

He looked me in the eye, and then at each one of us, and very kindly asked us [Read more…]

I’m A Better Backpacker Thanks To Ballet

Melanie Doskocil is a ballet teacher, former professional, and writes over at Ballet Pages. You may recognize her name, as she’s guested at DA before with articles on managing stress as a teacher and a woman, and the realities and pressures of elite training. This time she investigates a lighter but no less insightful subject in the first of a series of posts we’re calling Ballet’s Un-X-pected Lesson Files. Enjoy!

Ballet has helped me be a better backpacker!

No, it’s not because I have better balance, or coordination, and certainly not because my body is stronger, or healthier, or more flexible. My history includes enough injuries that it’s surprising I can even hike, much less lug a huge backpack 15 miles into the wilderness.

IMAGE Melanie on a snowfield in the Holy Cross Wilderness in Colorado IMAGE

Melanie on a snowfield in the Holy Cross Wilderness in Colorado

Actually, I’m a better backpacker because, thanks to ballet, I am spatial.

It’s not a typo. I did mean spatial, not special.

Though, any non-dancer who has spent time in the company of a group of dancers knows how “special” we dancers are!

  • We have our own language: a mixture of french, English, arm and leg waving.
  • We have no qualms about jumping up in the middle of a restaurant or other public place to demonstrate something funny that happened in class that morning.
  • We have little if any personal space boundaries with our dance friends, which often makes our non-dance partners uncomfortable.
  • We can be caught at any hour of the day, mumbling over steps and trying to solve choreographic problems.
  • We give up family functions and holidays because the show must go on, yet…
  • We’ll happily join you at the dance club after an 8 hour day of rehearsal, just to let off some steam.

Spatial Awareness

What I’m talking about is an extra sense that dancers develop from years and years of training.

Whether you’re a ballerina, a tap dancer, a hip-hop dancer, it doesn’t matter. We’ve all had to learn to [Read more…]