The following is a quote from a 1985 interview with Finis Jhung. It is rather long, but I love his philosophy and approach to dancing. Jhung is currently on staff at Alvin Ailey Extension, where I’ve been taking ballet classes. Although this quote is only a few years younger than I am, this approach is still utilized in Jhung’s class, which makes for an encouraging environment for one such as myself who does not fit the ideal mold, especially being a non-traditional dancer*.
“So much of ballet – because it’s a Western art form – has always been taught in isolation. I went through so many years of frustration because I was a student at a time when you were only taught vocabulary… but you were not taught how to dance. When you think of how many people dance – just how many dancers there are – ask yourself how many of them are really exciting to watch. Just think of the number of professional dancers around and then think about the number of people you consider artists. There’s a big discrepancy and it’s not because those people haven’t had the opportunity to develop. I ask myself why and I have to think that dancers have to be freed. We must make them believe in themselves. We must make them confident.
“If you learn to feel more comfortable as a dancer, your ability to move will increase – particularly when you’re not straining yourself into a position you physically cannot find. For years as a dancer, I was imprisoned by this idea of the ideal dancer – which I simply was not. But I still had something valid to offer… as do many dancers. But they are never allowed to develop that potential because they are forced to fit into a mold which is inappropriate to them.
“What I’m trying to give people is… Well, let’s just look at what you’ve got and we’ll work with these basic rules of anatomy, these physical laws and, as long as you’re going in that direction, work with a genuine store of energy, trying to stretch your feet and legs to a degree, really working the rotation and really working from the center of your body… well, you’re going to get better!
“I mean I think that fifth position is something that you pass through. Most dancing is actually done on one leg. Fifth position happens but the basic issue is movement and movement happens on one leg. And you learn that in the classroom. I say the same thing every day when we start at the barre. You must turn out, yes, but it is not in your feet and it is not in the position. It is what is coming out of your center and that stretch in your legs and in your toes and in your flexibility. I want to teach people how to ballet.
…I want to help my dancers find a technique that does not thwart them, but will strengthen them and will help them realize their individual potential… to actually mold dancers to utilize the personality… the person.“
Dance Pages / Spring 1985 by Otis Stuart
*Although I perform traditional folk dances, I am considered a non-traditional dancer in the sense that I began learning the most common forms of dance (ballet, modern, contemporary, etc.) later in life.