In a recent ballet class, the teacher quoted advice she’d gotten from Maya Plisetskaya: “Sometimes, what you leave behind you is more important than what you put before you.” The context in that class was grand jetés. Many of us hadn’t paid close enough attention to pointing the foot of our back legs. An important detail, definitely, but the idea of what gets left behind is so much more important than just that. I’m not sure what was the context in which Ms. Plisetskaya offered this advice, but I have a hunch she was hinting at some profound stuff.
For starters, the tradition of ballet has recently started being documented in a new way. YouTube and the prevalence of recording technology have changed the way dance will be preserved. For most of the history of dance, it’s been passed down through teachers in an embodied oral history. Dancers for whom roles were first made often teach the next generation, not only passing down the steps, but the feelings evoked by the original intentions of the piece. Teachers share wisdom, like the importance of taking care what you leave behind, from their mentors or sources of inspiration. The lineage of this kind of advice links everyone who takes a class to the history of dance. More immediately, a kind word to a classmate can leave a huge impression. It’s a tough discipline, and everyone has off days. It means a lot to hear from a peer that you’ve done something well. And the memories left behind from performances can mean so much. One of the great things about art is that it inspires ideas. Since it’s Nutcracker season, I’ve seen lots of children at shows recently. The inspiration of a gorgeous performance lingers in the imagination of kids who watch dance, planting the types of dreams that fuel the next generation of dancers. We have the chance to leave behind different kinds of beauty all the time, and that’s actually pretty amazing! For me, thinking about this helps me to bring more and better energy to my dance training, and also to be a better person (not to be too cheesy). I think it’s a good thing to think about what you leave behind, generally, in life. So, thanks to Ms. Plisetskaya for the wise words.