Ballet is Metaphysical

Although I am by no means a professional ballerina, in many ways I have devoted my life to ballet. Ballet has been a part of my life for 30+ years. I have taken classes for that long, and I have been a ballet teacher off and on for over fifteen years. Yes, I wanted to be a ballerina, but ballet is cruel. I knew by the time I was 10 that because of my body shape professional ballerina was not in my cards. But dance really is my life, and with that comes ballet.

Once you have been taking ballet for years and you are able to move beyond the judgment and competition to be the best, a magical thing happens: ballet becomes metaphysical. Ballet technique gets in your body, and stays there forever. Again, this is something that happens after many years of training. The patterns become ingrained in your mind and body until they become a part of yourself and how you move everyday. I can always spot a highly trained ballerina. They have a certain way of walking, sitting, and holding their bodies.

Wendy Whelan, photo by Jack Mitchell

Ballet gets to a point where it could be compared to yoga. It connects the physical with the mental, it’s highly meditative, and it allows you to get into your body. Again, this is not something the beginner will experience. I don’t think people find the meditative qualities of practicing ballet until much later in their training. Like yoga, one finds release once they have some mastery of the steps and patterns.

Ballet classes are extremely ritualistic. They almost always follow the same format (barre with the exercises in a particular order, center practice, pirouettes-turns, traveling turns, petite allegro-small jumps, grand allegro- big jumps, and some sort of bow or reverence at the end). There is a particular style of music, there is a certain way to dress, there is a proper mode of decorum, and there are a myriad of unwritten rules. Ballet really is its own mysterious world and one has to study it for many years to become an insider and begin to understand the in’s and out’s of the culture of ballet.

Alonzo King's- Lines Ballet

Class usually begins very quietly. Students arrive early and go into their own little rituals of preparation. As I was sitting in my office (which is connected to the dance studio) I was listening to a ballet class getting ready to begin. The instructor had soft, meditative music playing (it may have even been Enya) and the students were stretching and talking softly. When I come in to teach ballet I find the same thing- quiet students preparing for class. Compare that to when I come in to teach jazz dance. Then my students are bouncing off the walls, sharing stories, and being very loud. Then true to form I play some loud, exciting music and off we go. Ballet class is not like that. The first exercises at the barre are quiet and reserved. The whole barre is designed to train ballet technique, but also let one get into their body and their dancing. Really I think barre work is the most meditative part of the whole class. All the movements are codified and deeply ingrained in the well-trained dancers body. Once barre begins it simply floats out of me and I can enter my calm, meditative, ballerina mindset.

In it’s early development ballet was designed to lift the dancer to the heavens. That’s why the dance form is so lifted with emphasis on dancing on the tips of the toes (pointe work), developing huge jumps, and the ability to hold one’s leg at crazy heights and angles. Many of the romantic ballets center around the juxtaposition of the real versus the ethereal and feature magical creatures like Sylphs- spirits of the air, and Wilis- female spirits who, jilted before their wedding day, rise from their graves at night to seek revenge upon men by dancing them to death (side note: I’ve always been fascinated by these Wili creatures, but have never encountered them outside of the ballet world…I sense an idea for a “W” blog forming).

Unless you’ve been studying for many years you probably won’t ever connect to the meditative refinement of ballet. You will also never find it if you are consumed in class with competition and a desire to be better than everyone else. It only comes when you can let go and give your body over to the dance without having to completely focus on what you look like. However, there is one way for the inexperienced to be drawn into the metaphysical powers of ballet: watch it. Go see a ballet and let the beauty of it take you away.

I have included a YouTube clip of one of my most favorite ballets, Jiri Kylian’s “Black and White Ballets” This particular excerpt is from the section, Petite Mort. These dancers create magic and feed the eye with movement patterns we don’t usually experience.

Yes- I am an extreme lover of ballet and it is truly a part of me. Because it has been a part of my life for so long I have some unique views. Regardless of whether you are an experienced ballerina or a complete novice, I hope that my thoughts give you a different way to think about this stern, glorious, and demanding art form.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Angela
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 13:06:43

    Wow, I love your description. I’m not a dancer, but you make me want to be one!


  2. Ignatius
    May 10, 2012 @ 02:20:35

    “Metaphysical Ballet” is a timely new book for those who love the ballet. Beautiful ballet dancer on the cover. Poems inside about ballet as well. “.. some lines are so beautiful they just stay with you.”
    – Meira Pentermann


  3. Faeriedaughter
    Jun 16, 2012 @ 20:59:21

    Beautiful. If I had my life over again, I’d probably be a ballet dancer. Or a zoologist. That clip was breathtaking.


    • chinacat27
      Jun 17, 2012 @ 01:31:00

      That’s funny, because sometimes I threaten to stop dancing and go work with animals instead. I also make a lot of animal dances.

      I say in my next life I want to be an Olympic figure skater 🙂


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