Photo Credit: Sasha Sparks
Photo Credit: Sasha Sparks

What is Enough: What Advanced Dancers Can Gain From Beginner Classes 

Photo Credit: Sasha Sparks
Photo Credit: Sasha Sparks

by Chrysta Brown for The Dance Journal

A couple of years ago, I walked into a new studio and signed up to take a Graham technique class.  “Have you had Graham before?” the instructor asked me.

“A little bit,” I answered.  She nodded and told me to sit in the center of the room where I could watch the other students if I needed, but I didn’t actually need to watch anyone.  The real truth was that I’d studied Graham in college from people who were in the company and were on a first name basis with Martha Graham.  I’d taken Graham pretty much every day of my college career.  The pages of my copy of Blood Memory are dog-eared, annotated,  highlighted, memorized, and quoted often.

I’m friends with the instructor now, and we often joke about the “little bit” of Graham that I came to class with that day.  “Why didn’t you just tell me you’ve had Graham before?”  she asked me once.

“Because you never really know how much you know,” I told her.  “Plus, compared to, like, Yuriko, I don’t know anything at all.”

I’m an advanced dancer, I guess.  I don’t mean this as a self-motivating or self-congratulating statement.  I graduated with honors from the third best university dance program in the country. I’ve trained with internationally renowned dance teachers and choreographers.   I can take advanced classes and survive without too many battle scars.  My classification as advanced is supported by the work I’ve done.    It seems, however, that I have a beginner dancer’s schedule because advanced classes tend to happen when I’m working.  I have two options. I can blame the proverbial man for scheduling advanced classes when advanced dancers have to work or rehearse,or I can swallow my pride and take a class when, where, and with whomever I can.

In addition to certain technical capabilities, I would argue that the difference between intermediate and advanced dancers has to do with mindset, and if I was going to continue to grow as a dancer I had to change mine.  Once I was able to change my focus from my ego to my development, I realized that there was as much to be learned from a beginner class as from an advanced class if I went with that intent.  I’ve also learned that dance is hard regardless of the level and that an easy class is usually a matter of mentality.

A few weeks ago I read an article by dancer, Sarah Rodriguez that stated, “We do what we do because we love it… We couldn’t do it solely for fame, ego, fortune, popularity or victory.  That’s not enough.”    There are many quotes like this that argue that dancers pursue careers in the arts for the love of movement, flight, life, etc.   I was taking class from London-based dancer Fred Gehrig a few weeks ago, and he stopped class to comment on our emotional motivation.  “We’re dancers,” he said.  “Movement is enough for us.”   If we do, as they say, dance for the love of dance, could the love of dance be more  important than level or classification? Could the things that lead us to the stage also lead us to the studio?  Can we find a way to set aside our egos and take classes because we can, because we are dancers, and dance is enough?


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