Each holiday season I watch a lot of Nutcrackers…I’m kind of a ballet fan, which to me is like human dressage. My niece and I kick off the season by going to see the Nutcracker at the Joffrey in Chicago. I watch the other Nutcrackers on the Ovation channel, performed by many different ballet companies around the world. This year, the New York City Ballet televised their Nutcracker live on PBS. Not only was it fabulous, but Chelsea Clinton took the viewers backstage to see what goes on behind the scenes. There was a short piece about the School of American Ballet, which is the associate school for the New York City Ballet (there are lots of kids on this Balanchine version of the Nutcracker, as it should be). Something the dance mistress said really caught my attention. She said that the children were not allowed to hang on the barre, put their elbows on the barre, yawn, talk amongst themselves, or do anything but dance and listen. She said when she speaks the children stop, look at the teacher and listen. They aren’t allowed to even scratch their arm, because if they do then they can’t hear what she is saying. She went on to explain that this training would give the young dancers discipline and to prepare them for the performance. It also instilled respect for the art of ballet. This may seem an antiquated notion today where discipline is thought of as a punishment, but discipline means to learn, after all.
This whole thing struck me because dressage demands the same discipline and respect. Get away from that and you lose the heart and the craft of horsemanship. My instructor Kass instilled in me the importance of focusing during a lesson, of taking the time to hone the basics, and to perfect my seat. So many people simply want to buy an expensive horse, start doing piaffe and flying changes and skip the other “boring” parts. Not at Kass’s. I went to Texas to train with her for three weeks and I, a professional trainer, was lunged for several hours a day at the sitting trot, and with no stirrups or reins. That time in the saddle paid off. I have a position that I’m proud of, and I’m happy I spent the time perfecting it. And I’m glad to hand my knowledge on to my students.
There is a term in ballet called reverence. Dancers apply this by bowing and curtsying to the teacher and pianist after class. They aren’t doing this to give the teacher a big head. Reverence pays homage to the teacher’s knowledge, which was handed to her by another teacher, which was given to her by another teacher, and so on. In this way the dancers honor the art of ballet. We have our own reverence in dressage where we salute the judge in competition.
I don’t ride as much as I used to but I carry this discipline and respect into other facets of my life, such as in writing or working on the farm. It holds me in good stead and I know having discipline and giving respect will help the young dancers in their lives, no matter what path they choose.
Oh, and you should have seen the children dance! Watch a little here.