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.
As 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 when it comes time for performance that can seem archaic, weird and unnecessary. I assure you, there are reasons behind it all.
Some are tradition, some are practical. Some rules build character, some are for safety.
ALL of the rules, though, help create a feeling of being a part of something larger than ourselves. Something that is great and precious and magical and exciting!
In a world filled with mediocrity, sometimes a simple ballet like The Nutcracker can open a door for a child to a world that will accept nothing less than the very best.
The rituals of fixing the hair the proper way, reverence for the costume (“Don’t put it on the floor, don’t sit in it, and definitely do not eat in it!”), weekly practices, dress rehearsals, endless checks for anachronistic watches, jewelry, nail polish…
All of these things develop a sense of highly attuned awareness to a level of excellence sometimes not asked for in our daily lives.
I look around at all the worker bees in the world.
Many are comfortable with a mediocre job, mediocre relationships, and mediocre life. Many may not even know that something better is out there. Many have been rewarded and praised for their mediocrity and now believe it is their best.
As one of my teachers once said “In ballet, no one gets a t-shirt and a trophy just for showing up.”
But I know… my little ballerina Bees and ballet boy Bugs that stick with it and grow up with ballet in their lives will never settle for that mediocre life.
The exacting, demanding, ritualistic discipline of the ballet world will carry them to new heights.
It does not matter if they become professional dancers.
- They will have learned the value of hard work, to push themselves beyond their self-imposed limitations.
- They will have an awareness of space and time, artistry and music.
- They will know how to work as a group and as individuals.
- They will be self motivated.
- They will move through life with grace.
The lessons they learn in the studio and the performance, will guide them through the rest of their lives.
These kids will grow up to demand the same excellence of themselves that being in The Nutcracker once demanded.
To be instrumental in this is not a bother, it is a privilege.
Oh, and by the way, a few more of those crazy rules:
- Don’t whistle backstage
- Wear your hair in a bun
- Everyone must attend a dress rehearsal
- Everyone must have the same tights, leotards and ballet slippers
- Don’t talk backstage
- You must commit to the following rehearsal schedule
- You get the part you get and you don’t throw a fit
- No chewing gum
- No orange food (goldfish!)
- No nail polish
What are some of your “crazy” dance rules?
If someone were to ask you why you bother when it comes to teaching, or when it comes to dancing, what would you say?
Melanie Doskocil directs the School of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet with over 20 years of professional dance and teaching experience. She began her professional dance career in 1989 with Ballet Arizona and continued on to dance with Oakland Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theater, City Ballet of San Diego, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Mia Michaels RAW, and Odyssey Dance Theatre in Utah. Ms. Doskocil began teaching in 1995, for City Ballet of San Diego, under the mentorship of Steven and Elizabeth Wistrich. She continued teaching and began directing at Center Stage Performing Arts Studios in Utah, where she created their pre-professional ballet program. Melanie has mentored with master teachers Jean-Philippe Malaty, Tom Mossbrucker, Hilary Cartwright and the excellent faculty of Marcia Dale Weary’s Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. She shares her teaching stories, ideas, and some favorite ballet classes on her blog at www.balletpages.blogspot.com.
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