Writings

My life as a dancer part 2


Continuing from yesterday...
My life as a dancer part 2
That first dance school I went to was located in Uppsala, the fourth largest city in Sweden , which in this long but sparsley populated country meant that a staggering number of 100 000 people lived there at the time. It had one small city centre with a beautiful river running through it, a famous cathedral, two cinemas, a couple of cozy cafes and...that's it. Coming from Stockholm it felt a bit like a sleepy country den, but even though it left me a bit restless in it's lack of excitement, it was probably a good thing it didn't offer more metropolitan temptations. As a first independent living experience it was pretty safe, and I'm sure that helped my parents sleep a bit better at night. 
Life in Uppsala revolved mainly around it's University which was the oldest in Sweden, and banked heavily on the city's prodigal son, Carl Linné, the world famous botanist that in the 18th century undertook the painstakingly detailed task of organizing and naming our flora and fauna.
Now, if you were not a university student with access to all the drunken parties, or a botanist with an interest in hyacinths and orchids, The city had very little to offer. I was 15 going on 16 and too young to go to bars and clubs, so the only clandestine pleasure I had was to eat as unhealthy and unresponsibly as I could. My best friend there Valeria, who is still very dear to me, and I more or less lived together, and our diet consisted of spaghetti, massive amounts of candy, pizza, ready made microwaveable meals, and towards the end of the month when money was tight, porridge. We watched a lot of television, wore tons of make up and for that little extra bit of excitement made our own fake ID's, using rub on letters, cut up plastic folders and and a heavy iron. They didn't look very authentic but sometimes they worked, probably because of that heavy make up and our short tight dresses that seems to blind doormen everywhere.
To generate an income I worked two jobs some evenings and in the weekends. One was being a phone salesman for a local finance company that was selling expert financial advice. My task was to get people to come down for a free consultation, cold calling from the phonebook. Not the easiest job, and one that that came to an abrupt end after I puked all over the boss' Porche Carrera after a very wet company party. The other one was Burger king which besides being a kind of fun extra job, introduced me to the surprising combo of onion rings dipped in vanilla milkshake
My two years in that first dance school passed very quickly and were immediately followed by another more serious professional dance education in Stockholm, The Ballet academy. This felt like the real deal, dancing from early morning until late afternoon, Ballet, Jazz, Modern, Tap, Theatre, Music. Like a slightly more provincial version of the New york Fame school. Sans elaborate musical lunch numbers in the cafeteria or yummy Leroys, just a bunch of pale hard working youngsters with complex insecurities and constant injuries. Looking hopeful and fearful towards a future where only a very small percentage would ever get to show all that hard work on stage.
Here my food habits changed to keep up with the seriousness of the education. Coffee and cigarettes became part of my staple diet together with the occasional vanilla flavoured onion rings that were the perks of those long greasy hours at Burger king, some of it flushed straight down the toilet when noone was looking. That more serious competitive attitude, creating a more seriously damaged self image. I think most dance students go through this face of light to medium eating disorders, but I know that at least one student of the school got hospitalized and seriously damaged. There was an incident I know of where one teacher in the preparatory course actually placed a scale in the studio before class, weighed both the 'heaviest' and the 'lightest' student and ask them both to tell the class what they had for breakfast, to give an example...Something I consider seriously abusive, and if I would have been there with what I know today, I would ask that teacher to stick his scale so far up his arse that we could all see what he had for breakfast, frogging asshole.

So, the Ballet academy was good and bad, as I suppose most dance educations are. It was a solid good technical training ground and gave a very broad base to stand and keep exploring the craft from. I learned a lot about myself and those inner demons in the midst of all those million mandatory plies and jetes. I constantly felt too fat, too short, too imperfect in all respects and those large unforgiving mirrors coupled with the shiny leotards and white nylon tights did not relly help matters. It's an outfit that demands much from it's wearer.
Then there were some teachers that were outright mean and seemed to make it their mission to bring down whatever hope you had of ever making it. I am sure I was not alone in feeling this. If you ask 100 former or current dance students how they perceive that their 'up on a pedestal' teachers valued or values them, a large percentage will say that they were or are mostly subject to their teachers very subjective opinion of how a dancer 'should' look, and that if the teacher had/has a bad day it would/will inevitable spill over on to them. When I attended my training I thought that that was how it should be, that the breaking down of whatever confidence I had in myself and my abilities was an of course and a given. Now I know better. I have worked as a teacher, both of dance and yoga, and I know that encouragement and honest and constructive guidance works way better when building both artists and sane human beings.
In the end it was one of those teachers that totally misunderstood the meaning of their craft, that sent me over the top and pushed me to leave the school and make my way to New york. That desicion was unknowingly supported by another teacher, a really great one, Sir Max Stone, who during one of his summer courses at the Ballet academy, showed me how beautiful I could be, and how incredibly wonderful dancing could feel, a feeling that had been succesively dulled in the futile search to please the mirror and the more harshly critical people that sought to inspire with 'the whip'. Thank you Max, I am so happy you keep on inspiring students from around the world!
Of course there were others that made my years at the BA a delight and an adventure, our sweet Director, the late Lillemor Lundberg, the whimsically wonderful Siv Ander and the fierce hard hitting Charles Moore, who made every class feel like a performance. The lovely students in my class, especially Kenneth Jansson and Marie Nordmark, who invited me to be part of their show group So Serious, (see picture) and gave me that first taste of the kick ass experience of loving to perform. Gratitude and Thanks to you all for your inspiration and burning flame that kept me putting those dance shoes on. All in all those years of schooling, despite the buts and ifs and crooked teachers was a privileige, a pleasure and an experience I will always cherish.

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