Since my last blog about New York City Ballet’s corps de ballet in Le Tombeau de Couperin, I’ve been thinking a lot about young dancers, and how they transform from students into professionals. Most of the dancers onstage for that performance, (especially the girls), are probably 17-21 years old; so much younger than when most “pedestrians” start their careers. By the time the dancers are 35, their careers may already have started to wind down, after giving their bodies such a beating for 20 years. Ruminating on this has made me wonder when a student really turns into a professional, and how do we measure that?
I really don’t think it’s as simple as getting a company contract. Some of the dancers I saw onstage that night were barely out of SAB’s classrooms, and yet, they didn’t look like students performing at a recital (albeit a very impressive one). They looked so much more adult. What is it that effected this transformation?
My colleague Margaret thinks it’s the sense of confidence and self-reliance that comes from taking charge of your career and your life, and looking to yourself for guidance, instead of a teacher. She may be right. Certainly, most students I see, no matter how good they are, still look as if they’re in the studio when they’re dancing, like they haven’t yet acquired their own personality and said to themselves “I am a ballet dancer”.
Is that when a 17-year-old newly minted corps girl becomes a ballerina? When she looks in the dressing room mirror on the night of her first performance, in her first “real” costume, and realizes that she has become who she always wanted to be?