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  • Writer's pictureHannah Box

Looking Back to Move Forward

Hello! I am very excited to start this blog. I have wanted to write about my artistic and pedagogical ideas for a while now, but the suggestion of using a blog to help fulfill my Artistic Praxis I credit in my MA of Dance Teaching Artistry program at Wayne State University was the push I needed. I will be regularly posting about my process as I embark on a new artistic project. Many of my colleagues and friends told me on social media that they would be interested in reading this blog (hi, everyone!), so I hope this can spark some discussion in our little community - in addition to being academically impactful. So, with the introduction out of the way… time to talk about some dancing.

For my upcoming artistic experiment, I am very interested in exploring ballet movement and performance in unconventional spaces. Although this has started to change in recent years, still a majority of ballet works are performed on a proscenium stage. Although there is something magical about a theatrical ballet performance, my own experiences have made me question why this appears to be the only “real way” to perform ballet.

In my upbringing within ballet conservatories, I learned that being allowed to perform on stage was a gift - a privilege that could be taken away. Casting choices and comments from directors and choreographers often made adolescent me feel just a little too short, too fat, and frankly, too ugly to “deserve” to be on stage… especially in a tutu. I was rarely cast in a role where my character was beautiful or ethereal - I played the dumb one, the old one, the crazy one, or the “vaguely ethic even though I am white” one. Although I greatly enjoyed these roles (let’s face it, it’s very fun to act in a way you never would in real life… especially in front of thousands of people) and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I was given (they were many!), this pattern wore on me after a while - so much so that I couldn’t fully enjoy the moments where I did get to feel “like a ballerina.”

I LOVED all of these roles, but they are examples of what I am writing about for this project...

The "scared friend" in Coppelia. Photo credit: Soho Images

My classmate and friend Sarah and I posing as she was cast in an opera-based ballet, and I was in a (very cool) modern dance piece where I acted truly crazy. I was the only one in my class not cast in the opera-based piece.

Grandmother in the Nutcracker. Truly one of my favorite roles ever. I have nothing bad to say. Photo credit: Soho Images

I was cast as a "vaguely Mexican woman" (not the real name of the part) in the ballet version of Billy the Kid. I remember being very flirty and getting quite good at dancing with my eyebrow raised. I am very white.

Completing my BFA in Ballet Performance was the first time I felt like I could enjoy playing roles where I was showcasing balletic beauty. The professors did not make a big deal about my thick thighs or short legs, but instead noticed my technique and artistry. That experience helped me gain a bit of confidence as a member of the ballet field. However, as I look back on the work I created at this time, I rarely choreographed anything balletic. I was very comfortable in creating video and stage works that were contemporary dance or improvisation. There was maybe a splash of ballet movement in there, but I frankly was terrified to create ballet. The only time I created a balletic work was for my final work at USF - my BFA Senior Project.

It is only recently that I’ve begun to explore balletic choreography again. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I was furloughed from my part-time faculty position at a ballet conservatory, and I was shocked at how much I missed ballet. I had already decided after graduation that I was not going to pursue a career dancing in a ballet company, and would instead focus on my pedagogy and scholarly interests - while hopefully picking up freelance work when something was interesting. But with everything “on pause,” I felt like I needed to do something so I didn’t lose my mind… so I created a small ballet solo for myself.

The vision for In my Mind: an Alley Ballet was to play around with the depth of the alley and see if I could “flutter” around the space as only one person. Although I did not realize it at the time, I was creating the ethereal, romantic role that I was never allowed to perform for myself. This video was clearly not “classical ballet,” but I dressed myself in all white and fluttered around a woodsy alley… it is a bit reminiscent of La Slyphide, Giselle, or any of the other ballets where otherworldly women live in the woods. The tone of the work is very different from the “damsel in distress” idea that perpetuates in these ballets, but that is because I choreographed this just for me. I am not weak, or wounded, or dead… and I am allowed to wear a white tutu and do a bit of ballet.

As I consider my concept and design for my upcoming project (more on that in my next post), I know my biggest goal is to push past my comfort zone, and maybe even heal some of the wounds ballet has left me with. I want to choreograph using balletic movement, I want to style myself in a balletic way (maybe not an actual tutu - but we will see), and most importantly - I want to allow myself to perform ballet without feeling like I need make fun of myself in the process. Been there, done that - and quite honestly loved it at the time! But now, I want to create and perform ballet on my own terms.

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