Creativity is a force used not only to express, but also as a form of tribute. Whether we write a short story in tribute of a childhood memory, or take photographs of a natural disaster, or compose a song in tribute of our current circumstances, our creative endeavors end up becoming much more than some words scribbled down on paper. Our creative works pays tribute to current social issues in the world around us, whether they be issues of identity, sexuality, race, religion, or others. While I don’t think this is always consciously created, often, our creative art becomes a reflection of our fingerprints in our current time.
In their upcoming March 2016 issue, Harpers Bazaar Magazine, a culture, art, and beauty magazine, [teamed up] with ballerina Misty Copeland of American Ballet Theatre, who was recently named the first African American Principal dancer, to create a reproduction of Edgar Degas’s renowned ballet watercolor masterpieces. Degas’ work captured fleeting moments in everyday life. His paintings of ballet dancers capture the “movement of the human body, exploring the physicality and discipline of the dancers through the use of contorted postures and unexpected vantage points”. I find this so earthshakingly significant because having Misty at the center of these creations presents such a juxtaposition of what has been deemed classical, traditional, and molded in both the historicity of art and ballet, and cracks the binding frame of tradition.
Misty breaks the traditional prima ballerina icon, shattering everything that has been typical for dancers before her who achieved the role of Principal in worldwide esteemed companies. In the New York Time’s 2007 article, “Where are All the Black Swans?," race finally became a talking point around the dance world. For the aesthetics of ballet, gracefulness and uniformity, pale and tall Principal dancers, both male and female, fit the part better. Misty’s black body doesn’t fit the frail, long muscles, and tall stature of ballerinas. Her figure is much more muscular with toned port de brass and strong, chiseled thighs and calves. Standing only 5’ 2”, Misty’s body breaks the ballerina icon, as does her background.
I recently viewed A Ballerina’s Tale and learned more about her atypical dance training background. The traditional path of ballet dancers who make it to world renowned companies like Royal Ballet of London, New York City Ballet, or Boshoi Ballet Theatre of Russia, goes as follows: from traditional ballet training from a well-known studio ages 6-13, private training from 13-16, getting accepted to study in a professional school connected to Company at 16, and then finally being accepted as part of the Corps of the ballet Company. Misty though, comes from a childhood of hardship. Taking her first ballet class at age 13 at a local Boys and Girls Club, working painstakingly to gain the technique and strength to dance en pointe and being accepted to study with the ABT school at 16, working through the Company from Corps de Ballet member to Soloist and finally to Principal June 30, 2015 at age 32 after miraculously making a recovery from shin surgery.
Art forms are always crossing and interloping, whether we are both writers and musicians; artists and poets; or dancers and photographers it is our passion for creating art in any form that fuels us. Even our subject matters cross paths with other forms of creativity; we write poems about art we see, we compose songs after watching a film, or we choreograph dances after famous watercolors.
Misty’s icon breaking progressive achievements not only pave the way for atypical body types, various backgrounds, nontraditional training paths, and multi-racial opportunities in the dance world, but her achievements carve new paths for any art form. Her story provides inspiration not only for a dancer/poet like myself, but for anyone striving to share their art with others. The dancer in me resonates with Misty’s story.
I only started dancing in high school but I think our fires are fueled with just a bright a love for this art form even if we didn’t start learning it at a very young age. Even though my body isn’t the ballet-perfect silhouette (It’s a stocky 5’3” with short arms and large calves.) I’ve found a graceful power behind dance. For me, dance expresses emotions that I just can’t quite pin down in a poem. Often, if I’m experiencing something too intense, whether it’s joyful or sorrowful, and I need more of a release than my pen will give, I turn to dance. Like poetry, dance helps me connect with other people and experiences and channel my energy into something constructive. Whether we are musicians, poets, photographers, artists, or sculptors, we can break through traditional icons no matter our gender, race, sexuality, background, or training. The important thing is that we fuel our creative passion and create.
I see Touchstones as a place where we as creative people come together to push our fingerprints into the clay of our current times and leave our tributes to our experiences, both personal and collectively.