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Grace under Pressure: the Art of Ballet

By: Margaret MacMillan






It (ballet) projects a fragile kind of strength and a certain inflexible precision—Ayn Rand


I look forward to my visits to my hairdresser for a number of reasons. For one, there’s nothing like freshly cut and colored hair to make you feel better about yourself. For another, I can be sure there will be lots of hot coffee and good conversation.

One more reason I enjoy these visits is that the salon I frequent is directly across the hall from a ballet studio that welcomes dozens of aspiring young ballerinas through its doors every day. There is usually a bevy of them crowded together outside the studio waiting for their class to begin as I arrive for my appointment.


Even when I’m in the salon with the doors closed, I’m aware of their presence. It’s possible to hear them going through their exercises if the blow dryers aren’t on, and the rhythm of their jumps can sometimes be felt through the floor boards.


Ballet is a precise art, which took root in the 1500s, and is based on a series of technically exacting and athletic steps performed together with graceful movement. For hundreds of years, the same steps have been taught and practiced. They don’t change, and each one brings with it a technical factor that must be mastered to perform it correctly. Intertwined with the steps, and just as important, is the heartfelt movement of the body to convey the story the ballet steps are trying to tell.

As in all art forms, there are ideals in ballet. They have been achieved by the likes of Margot Fonteyne, Gelsey Kirkland, and Mindy Copeland. These practitioners of the art are inspirations for any budding ballerina who walks into a ballet studio anywhere in the world. They are examples of what can be. However, not everyone can achieve what they have. Nor should they be expected to.


The young dancers I see going in and out of the studio next door are experiencing the sense of accomplishment that comes from learning a new ballet step and being able to perform it. They are developing grace of movement by learning how to interpret the steps and convey their meaning. And, they are learning how to put it all together for their own enjoyment and that of their audience. This is what they aspire to. And this is what they achieve. Bravo to them all!


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