Celebrating Danceworks Performance Company’s 20th Anniversary with a Guest Blog Post by company member Melissa Anderson.
I have danced with Danceworks Performance Company since 2002 and teach ballet at Danceworks, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Nancy Dianne Studio of Dance. I grew up in the world of classical ballet, taking classes since age seven, and growing up through the ranks as most ballet dancers do. My goals and dance aesthetic were formed during that time of training: emphasis on attaining an artificial ideal, uniformity while dancing in groups, and always adhering to the rules of classical ballet.
For a youthful me, it was a fun game in which I was forever striving to get to that end goal (that never really had an end). Ballet technique, I feel, is the circus performer that is spinning an ever-increasing number of plates—as one begins to wobble, they must rush over to keep it on track while confidently adding plates and deftly keeping all of them in the air.
A dancer continually reevaluates while dancing—taking observation, adjusting placement and balance, and exerting the perfect amount of effort within the overlay of technique. I lived in that world of ballet for many years and, for the most part, enjoyed the career and its demands. I was an instrument of the choreographer and was told what to do and how to do it. I worked doggedly to be a part of the total picture created on stage. There was not a lot of emphasis placed on having an opinion or input on the performance being created.
As a corps member, uniformity was valued, and even as a soloist or principal dancer, success was measured by excelling within an existing structure. Along this life journey I gained a husband, experience abroad, a job with Milwaukee Ballet, and the birth of a daughter. As the journey continued, it included a loss of job, and a few years later, the exit of said husband. This information may seem deeply personal but it is the reason that I am now at Danceworks—it was Danceworks Performance Company that gave me the opportunity to continue to dance and perform. The DPC dancers quickly became immensely important to me, and grew to be friends and a support system. It was Danceworks that gave me the opportunity to teach ballet and earn a living while riding the storm of so much change.
Once I became a part of DPC, my dance education continued but took a new direction. I was now learning to own and share opinions, be a part of the work being created, offer input, and have more connection with the work. I had to be braver. The goal was no longer succeeding within a set of technical rules because the rules would continually change. This has deeply altered my goals as a ballet teacher.
I still teach classical ballet technique as it has been passed down for hundreds of years. But my goals for the student have expanded for them to gain technique that will serve them physically, help them attain strength and coordination, and also challenge them up to a level where their dancing can bring them joy. I now approach teaching ballet from both the traditional mindset of outside in, as well as the more contemporary inside to out. Some of my priorities have shifted when teaching. I still care about the details such as the placement of an arm, or the execution of a step, but I also care that the dancer knows a bit more about why it must be done this way, for safety, artistry, or tradition. I also believe it is okay to rethink and question parts of ballet technique that aren’t serving a dancer and their goals.
My work with contemporary dance and DPC specifically, has taught me to embrace happy accidents and to think on my feet (pun intended). I find that I can modify a ballet lesson to fit the dancers’ needs for that day. I am grateful for my experience with contemporary movement because it helps me view ballet technique with an outside eye. On a personal level, finding patience with myself while learning new skills simultaneously, grows my patience for those learning or relearning ballet technique.
The mission of Danceworks is to enhance the joy, health, and creativity of the community through performances, classes, and outreach activities that integrate dance and other art forms. I am lucky to be a part of that, as a performer and as an instructor. Even as I am leading a ballet class as its teacher, I am also learning alongside the wonderful people that are attracted to the Danceworks mission. We are all here because we enjoy each other and the joy that dance brings us.
Join us for Danceworks Performance Company’s next concert!
Handel’s Bestiary: In Search of Animals in Handel’s Operas
June 16-17, 2017 at Lynden Sculpture Garden
Handel’s Operas are teeming with animals! Stroll the grounds of Lynden Sculpture Garden in search of the lion, bee, nightingale, snake, elephant and tiger! Come explore the menagerie created when Danceworks Performance Company, Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Lynden Sculpture Garden reunite in a new collaboration featuring dance and opera by an intergenerational cast of creatures!
Welcome to my blog, where I'm hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks…what makes me tick, what keeps me inspired, and where I can share some of the stories worth telling.