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Advocating Ballet Training

co-writen by ballet master Janet Panetta and her student/assistant Cecilia Lisa
Eliceche *

In “Three Guineas” Virginia Woolf makes a call for women to ‘Protect culture and
intellectual liberty, simply by reading and writing their own tongue in such a way as to
protect those abstract goddesses themselves’. Dance has it’s own living, concrete,
abstract and mythical goddesses. Each goddess has their own tongue, language,
technique, method, approach to the body and choreography. Some myths are based
on real practices and some on fantasies we construct. The construction can be
common or personal. We would like to rephrase Virginia Woolf’s quote in the context
of dance and ballet, to make a call to female dance artists to ‘Protect dance, the
living art of movement and choreography, an actual and potential space for physical
intelectual liberty and body criticality, simply by studying and incorporating their own
traditions (new and old), in such a ways as to protect those abstract and living
goddesses themselves’. These dance goddesses might also be called witches. The
living witches are namely woman, who carry in their bodies and minds profound
knowledge of their craft and artistry. If dance and ballet are crafts of the body, many
women are the carriers of these embodied knowledges and histories in their tissues,
cells, joints, muscles, and imaginations.

Ballet is wisdom accumulated over the years with physical experience through
repetition in the body. It’s a deep kind of knowledge stored in muscles, bones, cell
memory. It is passed on orally/practically from teacher to student. Generation to
generation. A passage of knowledge, one could say, equal to the martial and healing
arts. We dare to suggest this information that is transferred is on a large scale
female knowledge. From the moment when ballet moved from the court into the
theatre it has been a profession female dominated in numbers if not in rank. Despite
the fact that it’s a profession practiced and studied by way more woman then men,
the positions of power, directors, choreographers, teachers have been awarded to
the numerically fewer men. Still nowadays, in ballet classes one sees very few male
students and very many male teachers, compared to the amount of female teachers
in relationship to the high number of female students. Woman have to be twice as
good to get as far. This statements are written from experience in the practice and
not from a thorough statistical research**. It’s like women doing most of the cooking
in the household and men being the professional chefs. Still, despite this unfair
gender distribution in the professional field, ballet and dance compared to other
professions in society hold a high amount of women. It is majorly female bodily
knowledge pass on from generation to generation. From dance mothers to dance
daughters. Physical knowledge shared among dance sisters. In the craft of ballet this
passing of information is not always a fairy tale. However, although there are some,
arguably many, abusive power situations in ballet, like in many other professions,
this is not an inherent quality of the form. In fact the relationship master/disciple,
mother witch/daughter witch, teacher/student can be one of great love and
generosity. A relation of sharing. It is the role of the teacher to make the best of each
individual come out, to make each dancer shine their best within their own body and

Now all witches have their protocols of passing information. Ballet, Dance and
Choreography have various technologies for learning. Before the invention of VHS

when in fact it might have been done with more sharpness and precise arrival. tissue to tissue. We want to challenge the notion that the founding principles of ballet are the court and royalty. Movement can be copied with the idea that it was originally done that way. Examples of this are the over encouragement of super high extension that obliterate the integrity of the body. video changes the dynamic that we see from the original action. For all cases. a trailing. In times of virtual superficial relations we stand for a witch to witch generational deep knowledge passage. the deeper your experimentation goes. Can we have an experimental approach to ballet? and what would that mean? To approach ballet with a research mind set. In video there is visual delay. these are important. vimeo and social media. transferring weight. we advocate this mean as a main form of learning about the body and dance. The problem can arise because in this media you have an aesthetic relationship to dance and movement that is decontextualised from its geographical and socio-political framework. Since the 70’ various technologies have been invented including the marvellous revolution of world wide web. The deeper your study. basic dance actions. spells. principles and protocols. precious technologies. In fact it should be the opposite. as well as forcing pretty poses that block dancers from moving. is not a aesthetic copy. deeper your knowledge. A deep form of understanding. racial and political level. It is a technique for understanding the body. Now. Also if a performer in the video makes a mistake of any kind it is set in stone. to us the founding principles are the body in movement. We are in times of quick process generation. Ballet like witchcraft is old. fast and superficial. but a learning from within. what an oral tradition offers. A typical example is the ongoing tension with appropriation of african american culture in the United States. with curiosity to study the human body in movement. we stand for long term profound commitment to dance and the body. body to body. We would like to talk now specifically about the craft of ballet. It’s a mind set but it is also a deconstruction of ballet to it’s basics. Namely the video form (2D image) misses precision. The craft of ballet should not function as an oppressive system that limits the physical possibilities of a dancer. It’s a cyclical move.in1970’s it was an oral tradition supported by scores and notations developed by different dance artists. By founding principles of ballet we mean not the royal court but the . Old and new technology (such as VHS or you tube) as well as dance notation and scores. If there is no access to the source of the video or study of the context of it’s creation. Following the witch craft tradition of oral transmission. jumping. sharpness and nuance. Since the beginning of mass distribution of VHS till today’s easy and free access to you-tube tutorials in many techniques and practices for the body. but pose their own problems. but this does not mean that it is inherently a stagnant oppressive system. use and throw. from human to human. the copying from a video can become highly problematic on social. the deeper your interest. Witches have potions. are forms of learning movement and choreography from other time periods and places. orally. but think they are in no way a replacement to a personalised relation with a live guide. In a society of trash. transferred fiscally. cell to cell. We applaud this open source free tutorial accessible to all. people have chosen this media over an actual human tutor/teacher/master. In terms of learning movement . If the idea of beauty is a priority over the function of the body it will block dance and freedom in movement and therefore make it strained and not beautiful. We will give a brief explanation of our understanding. To it’s essence. a creative criticality. to it’s founding principles. let’s take you tube.

the verb ‘TO BEND’ and secondarily a position or a movement. By repeating precise actions we allow each body part to understand.a position? .bones of the body. We are not interested in the mannerism and affectation of the ballet tradition but in it’s pure technique. The exercises at the barre have a strong emphasis on dissociating different body parts allowing them to govern at different times. A concrete example is the very basic tendue step. or local knowledges. This refinement of situated knowledges not only allows for independence of different body parts in a decentralised whole but by doing so it offers a greater range of possible movement. with muscles following. Physics can be studied and understood both theoretically and empirically. learn and register the knowledge in the muscles. A wonderful detailed. aesthetic or your personal goal. Each body part has it’s own intelligence and can be a sovereign at different moments. A ‘tendue a terre’ or a ‘grand battement’ is domain of the foot. The more specific image the brain has. independently within the whole of the action? It’s primarily an ACTION. However if we want the language to move from information to knowledge. nerves . To deconstruct ballet technique and understand it from a priority of bone placement. But it is offering you a choice. This is a study of function in order to understand better ones own body in movement. The structure of the ballet class allows for independent articulations in the beginning exercises at the barre and later more holistic approaches are required. In other words the foot moves and the leg follows. Although positioning is a key practice in grounding knowledge when the position is more important then the action you lose the aim of the goal. decentralised and non hegemonic. The ballet barre provides for a structure to awaken each independent body part. partial way of organising worlds. Ballet can offer that understanding of the different body parts. the choice of wether you want a more efficient lift or arduous one. encouraging a body of multiple intelligences. The brain can be useful in honing body intelligence but not dictating over the dance. lifting a leg from your foot demands less energy. active. Donna Haraway writes that feminist objectivity is quiet simply situated knowledges ***. Worlds within worlds. Now back to grand battement. To be able to choose at different times different body parts ruling opposed to a monopolized relation to the body. embodiment is necessary. A craftier more sophisticated technique.a movement? . The language approach is of great value to understanding and utilising the precise image. Like all rituals it has it’s own protocols. Namely richer potentials for a richer dance. the more direct is the body response. A more conceptual approach to ballet technique is to utilise the actual meaning of the words that name the actions. The ballet class is the daily ritual of the ballet witches. What is a plié? . from toes to top of the head. However both are viable as choices depending on choreography. The ideal of technique is to have more tools to access and make choices. To the point where the body intelligence takes priority over the cerebral. Technique in it’s basic principles offers the dancer the possibility of making choices based on understanding. We use action as opposed to movement because movement is too generic in the imagery while an action is specific. Now we find the need to clarify the difference between a movement and an action.

as it does in life. rigor and discipline are needed. One can understand the physics.You might not arrive. Last but not least the ballet training. For information to be physicalised. rhythm is essential. There is personal reward in mastering a movement. We’re talking here about a self imposed rigor.and tissues. if practiced from a deep understanding of the body mechanics. The more physical this knowledge becomes the more risk is allowed to happen. the bigger the range of movement possibilities. offering different meanings to a phrase by emphasising different parts of . Information by itself is not knowledge. This ritual of repetition offers a familiarity. Work and repetition if done with the right intention it is not only a viable way to learn. it helps prevent injuries and keep dancers ‘in shape’. Desire and imagination are precious qualities for technique to be developed. Yes. not an artificial outside force that weighs heavy on the individual. It confronts us with the unknown.  Knowledge happens only when we physicalise the information. raw material or a resource. and not fixed.  Narrows the imagination of what can be done. On a last note to functionality we would like to talk about music and rhythm. is what will give your body the chance to figure out new information in practice and not just theoretically. To allow yourself to take a risk. The ultimate goal of a ballet class is to be able to jump. The strict codification of the exercises and development of the class give space for both challenging patterns of movement and understanding the body. Musicality and rhythm are basic elements of technique and understanding of the body in motion. a place to come back into your own body. The more precise pathways you can store in your body memory. Unlike an assembly line in a factory the repetition in ballet technique is more of a ritual for the body. The capacity to challenge ones own comfort zone. In fact they are values of great merit. We oppose the cartesian notion of the body as a machine. frustration and discomfort will probably arise at some point. a love for knowledge and spirit of curiosity and research.While in a personal warm up yo do what you know. but it will reward a dancer with the feeling of mastering movement and understanding more deeply how ones’ own body functions. It is a space for connecting with oneself. possible fiction and the unimaginable. Jumping is all dynamics. Even if you chose to never use the information you gained. For us rigor and discipline are not dirty words. repetition. but working through it will strengthen you to go forward and broaden the possibilities. it’s a bounce. Musicality is not merely a decorative or complementary aspect of dancing. but a positive obsession. Being musical is bringing out a personal opinion to movement. a desire to learn. We would like now to talk about dance training as warm up.  This is how confidence is gained. Dancers should have the desire to get better. into something you don’t understand or can’t imagine you can do. The body is an agent with history and will. This sense of achievement and understanding offers the feeling of success. training takes you out of your comfort zone. Timing is crucial when it comes to weight transfer and movement in space. Rigor requires patience and desire. and that is what working on precision offers. no matter what kind of dance they practice in their professional work. but what matters is overcoming the fear of failing.  Shying away from the task only limits one's possibilities. a success that is personal. In order to achieve a light high airy jump or a sharp speedy weight transfer. Ballet is about understanding the body in motion. When working with a specific image you might not always succeed. training. it is a stronger position to advance from than not being able to do it.  Master one small action and gain the confidence to go on to another. but it is most important that the body does.

2015 ***Donna Haraway. Back to witchcraft. western concert) dance is female bodies and class fees. while teaching at P. (Autumn. At Impulse Tanz women are 50% of the teachers.A. Panetta since 2006. and spell recipes.14.3. Vol.S.1998) .R. Cecilia has been a student of Ms. The base economics in (ballet.’ Keith Hennesy on email conversation November 25th. Ultimately the goal of technique is to transcend technique. we just reviewed some the potions. and during the Rosas auditions. ** We suspected choreographer Keith Hennessy might have some statistic on this subject. feminist studies. modern. They are 50% of the choreographers in the 8Tension series and way less than half of the presented choreographers in the main/professional program. Witches must do the magic with their dance ————————————————————————————————————— ————————————————————————————————————— ——————————————— *This essay a materialisation of an ongoing conversation between ballet Master Janet Panetta and dancer/choreographer Cecilia Lisa Eliceche. All this witch work and bodily knowledge are spells and potions. The text was co-written in November 2015 in the context of Amsterdam Master in Choreography. upon request he responded to us ’…your basic observations are probably just as accurate. as well as protocols for the ballet class ritual and the discipline of the craft. No. contemporary.the phrase. Women and girls study for more years before teaching and still do not get most of the high status jobs.T. Probably 80% or more.