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Martha Graham’s advice to fellow dancer & choreographer Agnes de Mille

Chantal Mailhac shared a photo14 hrs · 
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Miranda July. April 11, 2016 · 

(Martha Graham’s advice to fellow dancer & choreographer Agnes de Mille)

“How to dance forever” by Daniel Nagrin, (September, 8, 2007)

Daniel Nagrin is a performing artist, solo dancer and choreographers since 1940.  He trained under Helen Tamiris, Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, and Anna Sokolow and ended his career as a Professor of dance at Arizona State University in Tempe. He planned to become a psychologist. I had spent an entire night convincing his father to pay for a dancing career at the university.

The book contains eleven chapters on dancer’s day, diet, danger, healers and treatments, questions asking to be researched, the heart-mind of the dancer, backup, tricks, the survivors speak, the youth conspiracy, meditation techniques, vocal projection, and how to really dance forever.

Within the psyche of Western European history, there is an unresolved war between the mind and the body.  The Chinese word “hsin” means mind and heart, a oneness of passion and reason, the darkness and the light; thus in Western civilization order to be good, you must not be as bad as you would like to be. 

It is frequent that certain kinds of twisting and strutting of the body that is sending signals and signs that the body is beautiful might result is slaps, and hints that these behaviors are bad.  For a thousand years, there were all kinds of arts in Europe, except professional dancers who were prohibited in any respectable arena, stage or space.  Dancing was considered outside the pale of acceptable human and social behavior. 

Even in the USA, most Ivy League universities do not teach dance, at best professional dancing courses are minor diversion.  Thus, trace elements of self-doubts and guilt exist in professional dancers; there are either plagued by inhibitions or fly to the opposite pole of defiant vulgarity to justify the common moral disapproval.  Dancers who shun sensuality or those who seek in stage erotic connotation are in trouble as artists and as people. 

When the head is not right and the mind not in harmony with the body and the sense of self is an unresolved battlefield then the body is in danger and plenty of work has to be done.

Professional dancers are not all kinds of people in the USA because they share more common ground with professional dancers from Argentina or China than with the surgeon in the local towns.  Professional dancers have repeatedly experienced mystical happenings when the body is hot and flowing and frequently deep in the heart of fatigue. 

While dancing, there is a shift, and the dancer no longer has any skin, the floor becomes pliable, the music is coming from everywhere at once, the walls dissolve, there is no limits in space; a dancer feels that he can do anything, “a universe in us and outside us is us and all of us are whirling about in the dance and our body is stirring it all up”.  We never notice when it begins for while it is happening we are as happy as we can ever be and the beauty is that we are to busy dancing to know we are happy.  Professional dancers experience feeling “high” and it can be transmuted into addiction. 

The dancers continue dancing because they know that they will re-experience this exquisite high, for without this high why dance?  Dancing is a too hard a job, too risky and not rewarding financially, thus, why then dance if the experience of mystical happening does materialize? 

Most dance students consider the techniques as a way to gain control of the body, a way of controlling the beast body in line, a constant regimen of ordering its motion, not letting the body run free, an existence carrying the shadow of self-flagellation.  A dancer might have appearance, virtuosity, and even passion to dance but if he fails to convince and draw an audience into his expression and performance then he cannot qualify. 

A sense of pride in one’s physical presence on stage is the spine of the dancer’s craft and art; otherwise, performing can only be a torturous experience. Without pride in the body in front of an audience then better focus on choreography or other related specialty in dancing.

Daniel Nagrin tries to focus on the injuries that professional dancers undergo during their career and the types of professional healers and medical practitioners available such as general practitioner, general surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, chiropractor, acupuncture, physical therapist, kinesiologist, osteopathic, podiatrist, Rolfer, neurosurgeon, nutritionist or masseur, and how these practitioners are perceived, how long the career of professional dancer could last and what can be done after retirement.  

The motto “no pain no gain” is anathema to Daniel because he thinks that this saying could have been conceived by a sadistic sergeant: Daniel believes that the body knows its limitations and it is better to take plenty of rest breaks while sustaining the exercises and training; the body knows when it is demanding repose because not to heed the signs then a major injury is in the making.

Nagrin is not happy with the “youth conspiracy” where older professional dancers are eliminated from the shows that seek young dancers.  It seems that the Greek welcomed the older people to participate in ceremonial dances and the leaders, political, military, or artists, were encourage being part of the dance performances and in theater plays. 

The Romans Empire viewed dancing as effete and degenerate and only the slaves were allowed to entertain in dancing before the real show of the bloody games.  The Christian church inherited that revulsion for dancing from the Roman Empire and professional and public dance were prohibited and disappeared for a thousand years until the Renaissance.


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