Monday, July 31, 2006

The One

This post isn't about me.

My wife is a classical ballet teacher. The hours are long, and the pay is appalling. There are any number of reasons why someone would not want to do the job, and yet there are many teachers who make a career of it.

Like any job, there are minor victories frequently enough to make the teachers get out of bed each morning and get down to the ballet studio. It may be a student who has struggled for a long time and finally "gets it". It may be the painfully shy student who slowly gains confidence over the years. It may be the ex-student who comes back and thanks the teacher for changing her life. Whatever it is, it's a sign that all the hard work is worthwhile.

And if you're really lucky, there is "The One".

Many teachers have a long and satisfying career without ever having the chance to teach The One. But maybe one day a young girl will arrive at your studio for her first lesson with the combination of a natural gift, an ideal physiology which can take the training, and an ideal psychology which will accommodate the determination necessary to make it. Then after years of moulding and shaping, out will pop a ballerina who will conquer the world. She is The One.

My wife was lucky enough to have her version of The One, and a good enough teacher to take the raw materials and make them count. This student went on to win numerous awards, and in 1998 Lorraine and I flew to London to watch her win a silver medal in the prestigious Adeline Genee Awards, which is an annual international ballet competition.

The following year The One began training at the Australian Ballet School, where she graduated dux, and was subsequently offered a contract to join the Australian Ballet Company. Last year she was named winner of the 2005 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award, and at just 23 years of age has already been promoted to Soloist.

And now last night she won a Helpmann Award in the category "Best Female Dancer in a Ballet or Dance Work".

Her name is Lana Jones.

Congratulations, Lana. You are The One.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Maintaining my impartial perspective

In one capacity or another I have been involved in the local ballet school scene for more years than I care to remember. Probably the only capacities in which I haven't been involved have been as a student or a teacher, although I did marry a ballet teacher.

Over the years I have seen many students come and go. Some clearly have a lot of talent, some clearly do it purely for enjoyment, and of course the majority fall into the middle of the extremes. It seems that every parent thinks their child will be the next ballet superstar, and I don't envy the teacher who has to let them down gently.

Occasionally though one newcomer will shine, and it makes all the teachers' hard work worthwhile.

Not surprisingly, competitions bring out the best and worst in the students, and more disturbingly, in their parents. The "Ballet Mother" becomes the "Eisteddfod Mother", a truly fearsome beast. Then there are the "Eisteddfod Fathers", who often don't want to be there, and don't understand what is happening. These fish out of water have a tendency to resort to aggression to hide their insecurities, making life hell for those of us working front-of-house. Fortunately I have only ever had one person threaten to beat me up, but I managed to persuade him that trying to do so would not be a great idea.

Don't get me wrong, some ballet parents are wonderful - helpful, friendly, and a pleasure to spend time with. I look forward to catching up with them each time there is a competition. It's just a shame that they are in such a minority.

Well, last Saturday I became an Eisteddfod Father. My elder daughter made her debut in a competition at the Canberra Theatre. She is not yet four years old, so it wasn't a big dance number. She was on stage with four older students, and her role was to be the cute little one.

Purely objectively, it is patently clear to me that there has never been a student who has made such a stunning debut. The audience loved her, and she showed the sort of brilliance which will undoubtedly take her right to the top, if she decides that is the way to go. There surely couldn't be anyone who witnessed the performance who could think otherwise. If there are, they obviously know nothing about dance and are clearly brain-dead morons.

The other thing that always confused me was the parents who would end up in tears of joy and pride when their little darlings performed. Always seemed like such an overreaction to me. Now I'll admit last Saturday I did need a couple of tissues after my daughter's debut, but I'm sure that was just a reaction from the cold, windy Winter's day. Or a touch of hayfever. Or the last bit of that head cold I have been fighting off. Yeah, that's it. It was the head cold ...

My little star has begun to shine.

Impartial perspective is a wonderful thing.