The joy of dancing
A few months ago, I saw the movie “Dancer” about the young ballet dancer Sergei Polunin. The film touched me deeply. I was on the stage at an early age too, just as Polunin. I can therefore relate very well to the emotions, the pressure and the forlornness of a dancer who’s growing up while performing his art. The film has also made me feel humble. How small and insignificant are my pain and despair, which I have experienced in my career, in contrast to this tragic story? The true tragedy of this biography was shown above all in a statement by Polunin towards the end of the film. He had forgotten why he actually danced, which is why he withdrew from the professional dance. He said, he discovers the joy of dancing only now that he no longer has a reason to dance.
The joy of dancing – I have experienced it for several months now in its most original form. Small, delicate children of three and four years, with an infinite imagination and a seemingly never-ending energy, whirl around me and move to music like small fireflies. They know nothing about conventions, style, technique. They only draw from the pure joy of the expression of their body.
I’ve been teaching children and teens for many years. I have rarely experienced the kind of ecstasy which I now encounter in the classroom with the very little ones. This experience has enriched me as a dance teacher. I think it would be important for all dance teachers to make this experience with toddler lessons, even if that’s not their primary target group. Teaching older children and teenagers one quickly gets into the habit of transferring one’s own enthusiasm for art to the pupils. This was the case with me. For the time of the lessons, the faces of my students brightened up and I hoped that I had put enough embers in them so that the fire would continue to burn by itself. But if I’m honest, I didn’t succeed as much as I would have wished. As soon as it became strenuous or more concentration was required, one could sense that the self motivation of the children was unfortunately not very big.
An eye-opener was when I met my students at an Indian function. The children danced freely and happily to steamy Bollywood sounds. I hardly recognized these young people again. Their bodies moved with so much energy and their presence was so alert that I stopped in amazement and watched them admiringly.
“Have fun dancing! Show that you have fun! “- I listened to these requests as a dance student quite often. But when I look today at my little cheerful dancing princesses in the children’s dance course, this joy of dancing is coming out quite naturally. So, I wonder if it’s not rather about maintaining the fun they have? All children and teenagers who learn to dance were probably once such cheerful whirlwinds. And when I think back to the Bollywood disco incident, this joy is still deep inside them. But somewhere along the way, which was supposed to lead them into the world of classical dance, they lost their natural joy.
Of course, academic dance, to which I count Bharata Natyam, is not a stroll in the park. It requires discipline, will and diligence, as in all high-performance sports – to which I also count classical dance. And this is, of course, connected with effort, sweat, and renunciation, which can fairly be demotivating at times. But the positive emotions must always prevail, because otherwise it would never be possible for such an art to continue. And I can safely say Bharata Natyam is anything but extinct.
My finding of the past few months is that I can never transfer my joy, my enthusiasm and my absolute passion for this dance to others. On spectators yes, but not on those who want to dance themselves. This joy MUST come from within, only then is it genuine, only then is it authentic. And only an authentic dancer is able to captivate her audience. My little mini-dancers show me every week that this joy has only to be tackled, it sometimes takes only one impulse, not more.
So, what happened along the way from a small, enthusiastic dance girl to a half-hearted teenager? Let’s leave aside the hormonal factors, which also play a role. The main difference between dancing lessons with small children and the traditional lessons in Bharata Natyam is the space given for individual creativity. Children need creative freedom. This is a basic need of every child who has a love for musical expression. When this need is satisfied, its mind opens up to stylized forms of expression. I am now firmly convinced that a restrictive mode of movement, such as one wants to achieve in dance, cannot be achieved by deprivation of free movement. One fertilizes the other. It is a misconception to think that a dancer’s education does not connect with this desire for freedom.
You may call me an idealist, but I am determined to maintain this pure pleasure to dance in my small pupils. To achieve this, you have to adapt the system and the tradition. You have to show young dancers all facets of the dance from the beginning. Children are like sponges, they absorb everything. Many things are lost again, but much remains and often reveals itself in unexpected and surprising moments. In return you get creative, open and expressive dancers who, no matter which dance style they choose in future, always know why they love to dance.