Over the last year, I have spent a lot of my time researching a number of different aspects of dance for my forthcoming book Dance Production: Design & Technology. This process has been an utterly enjoyable one for me, greatly due to the fact that it gave me a wonderful excuse to meet some amazing folks across all areas of the dance industry. From the beginning, I wanted to interview a wide spectrum of professionals working in a number of different areas of dance – design, choreography, management, etc. Along the way, I picked up a lot of great information, anecdotes, and advice. As I was going through the process of final edits for the text this last week, I came across a quote from Campbell Baird that really struck a chord with me. Campbell is a top-notch scenic and costume designer and a genuinely nice person. When asked about advice for young designers wanting to embark into the world of dance design, one of his statements was this:
Learn what dancers do… Learn to admire their incredible devotion to an art form that, at best, can only give them fifteen to twenty years of a performing career. Every day they start over in class, take corrections, and try to improve.
This really got me thinking about the role of the professional dancer (especially in the ballet world), where class work is an expectation of the job from the novice to the master. No matter the status of the dancer, from the principal to the members of the corps, you are expected to continue in your training and explore how better to improve yourself. I respect this so much and believe there is a lot to be learned from this model. How much better would it be, in so many different industries, if those at the top of their game were expected to do this?
As a design professor, I have to admit to requiring things of my students that I sometimes simply cannot find the time to incorporate into my own freelance work while balancing the rigors of being a full-time professor, husband, father of two, and writer. I always feel just a bit sheepish, when I can pull up my designs from early in my own career as examples but sometimes not my most recent gig. How much more effective might I be at my own job if I had the equivalent of the morning technique class to remind me of what areas I was letting slide? For better or worse, there is no equivalent of the morning technique class in my field.
There’s a popular saying that goes something like, “dance like nobody is watching.” This certainly isn’t the life of any dancers I know. Most everyone I know dances like somebody is watching, even if no one else is in the room. Maybe we could all learn a bit from that idea, as well. Live your life as if every morning you have to show up, start over, take corrections, and try to improve. All things considered, it makes for a pretty damned fine work ethic.