I saw a movie recently called Born in China. It’s a gorgeously filmed documentary that involves four beautiful animals that are indigenous to China, and the movie chronicles their lives from birth to adulthood. The photographers and videographers waited behind their cameras all day and night for years to catch these exquisite animals growing, playing, eating, learning, and being themselves.
The attraction, other than the love and fascination with the animal kingdom in general, is that they are all exotic creatures that we rarely see, even in the United States’ zoos. These animals were unobtrusively watched and filmed while they were still developing, being cared for by their mothers, and learning how to fend for themselves in their natural habitats. To us, they are rare and intriguingly beautiful; to the others of their species, they are just part of the world that they know.
In the arts world, we often forget to see with fresh eyes the amazing treasures that are created in our own world’s natural arts habitat. People flock to see dancers onstage or go to studios where all the teachers are from other countries because they’re so… different? Are they better? No, just different. By the time dancers are professional status, they are all truly beautiful and exciting to watch. It’s also fun to visit other countries to learn and be familiar with technical differences and to celebrate and enjoy the similarities. There is a very strong camaraderie in the dance world that is an unspoken but deeply understood relationship, no matter where we are from. We can’t forget nor take for granted the fine artists and training that we have right under our noses. An artist is not just inspiring and often life-changing to watch simply because he or she is from another country; it’s because their talent is a unique gift. It’s wonderful to incorporate styles and techniques from all over the world to have a “jam session” of talent.
I had a student say to me in frustration, “I wish I was Russian; I would be more interesting!” What a sad and wrong perspective of herself! She felt that if she were different from everyone else, she would be more highly regarded. The fact is, she IS different from everyone else – they’re ALL different from everyone else! Unfortunately, in this society, her presumption smacks of truth.
I have no answers, and perhaps it will never change. I think it CAN change though, if all students are treated with the same expectations (tailored to their abilities) and high regard as we treat dancers from far away. When my ballet company performed in Russia at the Bolshoi Theatre, we were awed by sightings of their dancers in rehearsal. When we began our own rehearsal, we turned around to see the doorway crowded with the Russian dancers staring at us! I guess we are all fascinated by each other if we are the slightest bit different. Dancers from other countries and cultures are indeed beautiful.
Dancers from our own country and varied cultures are indeed beautiful. That’s because dance IS beautiful, and it translates into every language without saying a word. Familiarity should not be taken for granted nor dismissed. It should be accepted with honor and gratitude for its history that has given us the privilege to be involved.
Robin Conrad Sturm is the primary ballet instructor and Executive and Artistic Director of the Northern Virginia Dance Academy and the Asaph Dance Ensemble. Robin recently won InsideNoVa’s Best Author in Prince William honors and also writes a blog. Contact her at Northern Virginia Dance Ensemble: www.nvdance.net/ wp/ or call 703-330-5227.