Katie Peacock Shani Robison D490R 17 Apr 2012

Personal Philosophy

We often hear about the moral degradation in dance and how the arts are becoming less and less virtuous and more about greed, exploitation of the body, and superficial performances. However, for me, dance has continually increased my own spiritual self and provided light and direction in my life. Dance, and particularly ballet, has given me experiences to better understand spiritual principles, honor my body, develop my testimony, and mature as an individual. The beautiful thing about spiritual principles is that the truths they teach can be found in any aspect of life. Truth is truth and any faithful person genuinely searching for truth will find it, regardless of the field he or she studies. Dance is no exception and offers and special insight to truth because of the opportunity dancers have to use their bodies, a divine gift from God, to discover truths. An example of this overlay between truths in varying fields is demonstrated through an experience I had when Summer Lee Rhatigan came to teach at BYU a couple years ago. She spoke about the framework and space that is all around us, and that we are supported in the space while we dance. Even if we don’t occupy that space, it’s still there and helping us in our movement. That idea stuck with me and helped me see space and movement in such a different light. It also helped me understand a concept in Chemistry, a subject some think unrelated to dance, better than I understood it before. In Chemistry, part of the atom contains different orbitals that the electron can occupy, kind of like the orbitals the planets take around the sun. But for an electron to occupy an orbital farther than the one its currently in, the electron must

increase in some kind of energy or excitement. I love that these two concepts are connected. There is support in the space around us, but in order to reach that level and occupy that space (even if our bodies aren’t moving there) we must be aware of it and have energy to do so. Besides just the connection between these two genres, the idea of space supporting us alludes to another truth – that we were never expected to do anything on our own. We have the support of friends, family, spouses, and most importantly, the atonement of Christ as we move through life. Summer understood that support, she might not consider it connected to Christ as explicitly as I might, but she helped me see, in ballet technique, the beauty and power of the atonement. Without ballet I would not understand the support and help the atonement can bring, and also that I have to call on that framework of space to help me. Another spiritual insight I have found while in daily ballet class can be summed up by a quote from Elder Nelson from conference a couple weeks ago. Elder Nelson said, “Be we reminded that a perfect body is not required to achieve one’s divine destiny. In fact, some of the sweetest spirits are housed in frail or imperfect bodies. Great spiritual strength is often developed by people with physical challenges, precisely because they are so challenged.” While I might not suffer from an extreme physical disability, any ballerina connects to this quote. No one has a perfect body, we are all trying to compensate for something in our dancing. Whether it’s turnout, leg length, foot shape, or the hundred other ways we aren’t perfect, dancers wish they could fix. But how beautiful that we don’t need perfection. How sweet to hear that we aren’t supposed to have a perfect body, and how miraculous it is to see, despite the imperfections, just what these imperfect bodies are

capable of. Regardless of imperfections, dancers are still capable of molding and shaping themselves as artists to produce beautiful perfect work. This striving for perfection leads to another spiritual principle. While we are not perfect, the New Testament reminds us we are still commanded to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Likewise, in ballet, no one is blessed with a perfect body, and yet we still strive for that perfection of ballet technique. Oftentimes dancers are asked to defend their art as a legitimate pursuit, especially at a university that is so academically based. And while ballet might not ask students to study a textbook hours on end or take long strenuous tests in the testing center, it does ask students to strive everyday to achieve perfection. And that perfection doesn’t just require you mind alone, but you mind, spirit, and body. Daily ballet technique teaches me about the path to perfection. It’s long and arduous and will never be accomplished in this life, but it was never really about becoming perfect, but rather how we changed and what we learned along the way. This aspect of ballet and dance was further explained to me by Nesha Woodhouse, the owner of Lifehouse Dance Academy in Payson, where I teach ballet. I was interviewing her for another class last semester, and she shared some ideas that have stuck with me. Nesha spoke about striving for alignment in our dancing, that perfect alignment in technique, and how related that is to the truth about striving for perfection. She also mentioned that the most beautiful thing a teacher and fellow dancer can see is a student, so awkward at first, stick with it and achieve her own greatness. How that progress and development is the most beautiful thing in dance. That together with out spirits and bodies we can achieve such remarkable progress and beauty. Like Elder Nelson also said in that

same talk previously mentioned, “Anyone who studies the workings of the human body has surely seen God moving in his majesty and power.” Our imperfect bodies are so perfectly capable of progress and growth because of their divine designs. Besides learning about gospel principles through ballet, I’m also able to honor my body by striving to develop my skills in dance. Something I have always found so remarkable is that dance is one of the few arts that utilizes both our spirit and bodies together. Dancing is truly the work of the soul. There are fewer times in my life when I feel whole and complete than the magical moments in class and on stage. Dancers feel they can escape their struggles in the studio for a reason. I’m convinced that the reason dancers are so passionate about their work is because dance is the true expression of the soul. This mortality is the first time we have experience our physicality and sweat and muscles and strain. To be able to use our physical experience to express ourselves is such a marvelous way to honor these gifts we have been given from our Heavenly Father. My experiences in ballet have not only given me a deeper understanding of my body, but ballet have also allowed me to develop areas of my testimony I would not be able to otherwise. One of my favorite gospel principles is faith, and ballet technique class has allowed me to develop my faith every day. Every time I decide to push outside my comfort zone and let myself be exposed, whether it’s trying for more pirouettes on pointe or striving to find a better arabesque line, I exercise a little bit of faith in myself and in my body. Having faith that I can progress and improve is indicative of the kind of faith I can have in other areas of my life. Additionally, ballet has also allowed me to develop my own personality and individuality. Summer also alluded to this idea that we as dancers need to take authorship of our movement. As I find ways to be an individual in my dancing I feel

I’m coming closer to who I really am the way my Father in Heaven knows me. Dance has been a wonderful tool in strengthening my testimony. And lastly, dance has allowed me to mature as individual. I was able to perform for my senior project this semester, and my piece dealt with an issue in my life I have recently been dealing with, specifically about deciding what path I should take. After my senior project I met with Cathy Black and she asked me if I had felt better about my decision or had resolved the issue. And surprisingly enough as I gave her my answer I realized my anxiety about my decision had settled. I wasn’t near as anxious and concerned as I had been before. I realized that I was able to resolve some of my anxieties through dance. Because I was able to experience this problem and conflict through another medium like dance, I was able to cope and understand it in ways I hadn’t been able to before. That was a strong testimony of the power of movement and its ways to help us embrace issues from another view. Dance and ballet have provided me opportunities to grow as an individual and discover myself as I mature into the person and dancer I want to become. I am forever grateful for dance in my life and how closely it resides to my testimony. Whether I continue performing and taking class or not, dance will always be a part of my life and I will continue to learn more about myself and spiritual truths through dance.

Quotes and paraphrasing from: Elder Russell M. Nelson. Thanks Be to God. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints April 2012 General Conference, Sunday Morning Session. https://www.lds.org/generalconference/2012/04/thanks-be-to-god?lang=eng. Summer Lee Rhatigan. Guest Teacher at BYU. Lessons from 2010 and 2012 visits. Nesha Woodhouse. Telephone interview. 8 Nov. 2011

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