From Classical to Contemporary
I started ballet at the age of four. I dreamt of tutus, point shoes and great roles in The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. On the eve of my 17th birthday last year, I decided to change direction. No more buns and tight leotards; I arrived in the world of contemporary dance, a world with which I had little familiarity, but which would bring me a wealth of new knowledge and new challenges.
I was in a professional classical dance program during high school. I trained an average of 25 hours per week. However, when I arrived at the EDCM, I quickly realized that the physical demands of ballet and contemporary dance are not quite the same. The ballerina must work mainly vertically, thinking about her aesthetics and the body lines she creates. Leg extensions, feet curvature, arm postures, length of gestures. She has to be strong and flexible while being extremely refined aesthetically. This technical foundation has helped me and greatly helps me and has trained the dancer that I am. But I knew there would be significant body changes. I had to tame the ground, strengthen my muscles so that they would become ready to support my weight differently. I had to put aside my mannered ballet movements, trying to forget what I looked like and dancing for myself. I thought I'd do well in the ballet class for contemporary dancers, but I was wrong. It was indeed for “contemporary dancers”... I had to transform myself by changing or pushing concepts of classical vocabulary to the extreme. Also, while learning a new way of dancing to a certain extent, I could see that some of the corrections my ballet teachers had mentioned were resurfacing in contemporary technique class. As if my body had to focus too much attention on new learning and forgot some concepts that had been previously corrected in the past. I realized that my body had to be a hybrid: to take my acquired technical knowledge and apply it to my new world, while being able to adapt it to contemporary dance.
I had mentally prepared myself to change worlds. Maybe I had some stereotypes in my head—moving from the haughtier classical world to the more bohemian atmosphere of contemporary dance. But I was wrong. I soon realized that dance, whatever the style, is similar. Passion and love for this art have a unifying aspect that allowed me to soon feel comfortable.
Of course, I had some surprises. One of them was less emphasis placed on the mirror. When I arrived, the studio mirrors were hidden by curtains, except for a small space through which I could see my body. Every time I had the opportunity to look at myself, I would. Over time, I learned to forget the mirror, this friend and enemy who has been in my dance classes since I was a child. Of course, we still use it in contemporary dance, but much less often than in ballet.
In addition, I had to adapt to a very deep and different search for my body. I had to and still have to define myself as a person and as an artist. In classical dance, you often enter a mould with very demanding body standards, but in contemporary dance, there’s greater openness to “letting go” and to discovering yourself. Both mindsets are relevant, but I had to put ballet aside. A task that required and still requires a lot of effort. “Don't try to please or be perfect,” some EDCM instructors told me. I have to let myself go, let myself “experience my own dance.” I love this concept of humility and vulnerability in contemporary dance. You have the opportunity to dance what you feel.
It’s a process that couldn’t be achieved without the presence of my dedicated teachers and my dear classmates. I’d like to sincerely thank them.
- Meggie Cloutier-Hamel, first year student
/// In the Student Life section, EDCM contemporary dance students put pen to paper: an opportunity to explore different viewpoints and topics related to professional training, the daily life of young artists and life in Montreal. ///
Photo: Sarah Septembre