The psychological demands for a dancer have long been known as tough. Student dancers are reminded of rules, discipline, sacrifices and loyalty to their craft. Being psychologically strong is as important as being physically and spiritually strong in order to maintain and advance the level of performance required to compete in this three dimensional art form.
Psychologically, the dancer needs equal measures of stamina, endurance, empathy, determination, sensitivity and steel. Everyone comes to the ballet to see the highly technical execution of difficult steps performed with rhythmic musicality and razor sharp clarity. No one comes to see the dancer behind the swan: that would be the bunioned toes, sore muscles, fatigue, and various insecurities that contribute to the interpretation of the roles and the business as a whole. Perhaps this is why it is called staging a ballet. People come to be entertained and the dancer is adorned with point shoes, tutu, false eyelashes and feathers.
It appears that the role of both the white and black swan have always been danced by the same ballerina since the ballet’s debut in 1877. The polar opposite roles require diversity and strength. Veronica Tennant quoted in the December 2010 McLean’s article (One Nut-Cracked Ballerina) tells us that the role is so demanding that it is never danced by only one dancer alone over a season. I think it is ironic that a dancer needs to be vulnerable to be a good expressive performer and yet needs to hide it to be acclaimed.
My son is studying painting and tells me that when the canvass hangs in the gallery no one knows of the amount of insecurity hanging on the wall or how he thinks “ouch, I so dislike that piece” or “that could have been done differently or better.” I tell him that is because the public doesn’t come to see the insecurity; they come to see the piece. They come to see its interpretation or illumination of something through his eyes and to be entertained through its revelation. His private angst is for the backstage wings where all good insecurities should remain because they are taboo. The new Black Swan movie makes this taboo front and center as a psychological thriller. I’m not sure if it is thrilling or within reasonable limits just normal.
Counter punctually, the King’s Speech makes a whole show out of vulnerability and insecurity. Colin Firth will probably get an Oscar for it. In this movie the whole nation rallies behind his speech defect, as it is termed, to encourage him. He is portrayed as a sensitive, struggling character whose anger is his coping mechanism and his cursing a productive outlet for it. In this case the entertaining royal family is more sympathetic because of the insecurity. Sir Winston Churchill normalizes it beautifully by saying that he also had a speech impediment and used it to his advantage.
In short insecurity and creativity go hand in hand. Birth is a difficult thing with pains and second guesses and hoping it will all turn out all right. Ultimately you go with your best effort day in and out and hope the public sees the sensitivity behind the veil, appreciates it and is still entertained. Perhaps this is why the performer and the artist are such sought after characters because they remain somewhat of a mystery to us. Then again, perhaps it is because through their insecurities we see and accept our own.
Anna Green is a Master teaching Reiki, Yoga and other Healing Arts in Ottawa and the surrounding areas. She holds a BA in Human Relations & Spirituality, an MA Graduate Certificate in Conflict Resolution and Mediation, and an MA in Counselling and Spirituality at Saint Paul University.