Published June 8, 2023
Vulnerability in dance
When I think about dance and vulnerability the first image that comes to mind is 6 year-old me in tights and a tutu running around in a community centre creative movement class pretending to be flower. I know that the other moms (it was always moms who brought you to dance class when I was that young) looked at me strangely. One even asked my mother why I was wearing that “weird skirt”. I had watched Swan Lake when I was four and insisted on dressing the part for class. So, while most of the kids were in sweatpants and t-shirts I was in my fairy princess outfit doing lopsided kicks. In retrospect this was an early moment of being completely vulnerable to the judgement of parents and kids, and yet I had no idea…all I remember feeling was a deep conviction in each wobbly spin and jump.
I took a break from dance for 6 years, not for any particular reason I can recall, although I do remember a sudden obsession with dinosaurs, stars, space and book reading. I returned to the studio by way of an invitation from a family friend to come to their tap class on “visitors day” (a thinly veiled ploy to recruit more students). I came away from that class obsessed, and returned the following week enrolled not just in tap, but jazz and ballet as well, and eventually added baton (?!) to the mix. It was at this point that the joy I took in dance became mixed with feelings of competition, and inferiority. I was suddenly being constantly corrected, first by my teachers and eventually by my own eye which had appropriated their gaze. The mirror became a tool of self-assessment for successes and more often failures. In my masters thesis writing I discuss the way the dance classroom can replicate the panopticon, we monitor ourselves and others for faults, mistakes, body changes…
I’ve never felt so vulnerable as I did in the dance classroom. It’s why I left dance behind at the age of 21, and turned towards choreography instead. These days people who kind of know me still ask “how’s the dancing going”, and I quickly respond, “I’m not a dancer…I make dances though”.
How does all of this relate the present? And to my colleague’s writings? Firstly, I would say that the vulnerability AND resilience that each of us has built up working in dance is really extraordinary. Whether it is moving onstage, or creating in the studio, or writing the millionth grant asking for support to do what we would all do anyways, we are all constantly putting ourselves on the line. I know for myself I still think about the vulnerabilities and defenses I carry from my early training, as well as the ones I have built up due to being in such a competitive and precarious work sector. As well, vulnerability becomes a focus for me when I think about the economics, labour practices, and interpersonal relations in dance. I wonder if it is possible to distribute experiences of risk equitably, so that no part of the performance population is carrying an undue or unnecessary burden of exposure? I can frame this as the choreography of vulnerability; how it moves and is shared between makers, producers, administrators and performers in the milieu for me is not so much a creative question as a political question.
– Sasha Kleinplatz