An Open Letter to Famous Dancers

16 Jul

Dear Ballerinas and Danseurs,

We, your fans adore you, but sometimes the extent of our appreciation is left unexpressed for fears that you will think we’re any combination of deranged, creepy, or stalkerish. Some balletomanes aren’t hindered by such apprehension, and will happily approach you and speak as they will, but there’s a pattern of shyness for a good number of us. In particular, for the students of ballet, whether young or old, aspiring professional or recreational, perhaps the way class itself encourages the art of subtlety and a reserved demeanor ingrains a sense of modesty into us that tells us losing our marbles in your presence would be in poor taste. Or maybe we’re embarrassed because there may be a slight crush mixed in with genuine admiration of your talent (emphasis on the “slight”). Common sense tells us that while we venerate you like demi-gods, we have to remind ourselves that you’re normal people too, and normal people generally don’t engage in inconvenient conversations with strangers—especially when we already know your names and you don’t know ours. Awkward!

I myself am guilty of walking past my favorite PNB dancers on several occasions, wanting to tell them how much I’ve enjoyed their performances, but I always hold back. Now, too much time has passed and I’m screwed if I say something because what if they recognize my face from passing through the halls of PNB’s studios? Then I’ll look and feel stupid for not having said anything before, and once you speak to a dancer, what do you say when you see them around in the future? Have you established a rapport in which you’re casual acquaintances that can say hello to each other, or is gushing praise a one-time deal? Personal turmoil aside, I do think the Internet has made us braver, and the virtual distance has alleviated a bit of the anxiety in coming forward. I find myself able to pass along a comment to some of you dancers now, though most, if not all the ones I’ve chatted with are dancers I’ve never seen perform live. Still, I recall Bennet Gartside, soloist with the Royal Ballet saying that leaving from a performance and seeing nobody at the stage door is disappointing. Ironic, isn’t it? You may want to meet us, we may want to meet you, and encounters only happen a fraction of the times they can.

It seems our cowardice has led us to develop several disorders—I mean, “techniques”—in avoiding the issue of in-person dancer/fan interaction, allowing us to comfortably believe our behavior is concurrent with sanity. While I find our tactics deliciously clever, if you’re disheartened when we’re no-shows, then our actions are detrimental to the greater good. Even if you’re lucky enough to enjoy the superstar treatment after every performance, we skittish creatures are contributing to a misconception where you may think you have less fans than you actually do. For your information, I’ve decided to categorize the disorders into certain types, though it is likely you will find that the fans who furtively skulk in the shadows will be described by more than one (furthermore, this is not to be taken as an exhaustive list):

  • Guerilla Gifter – Sends gifts/flowers backstage to your dressing room, but will never seek you out in person
  • Eternally Ensconced – Too busy hiding from you at all costs to even think about saying something
  • Terribly Timid – Does not actively hide, but is simply too shy to come near and is afraid of coming across as crazy
  • Flustered Fluctuator– Makes several efforts to approach you, but chickens out each time, and indecisiveness leads to many missed opportunities
  • Ridiculously Reticent – Succeeds in the approach, but is completely dumbstruck and rendered speechless
  • Superfluous Spiller – Also succeeds in the approach and is able to speak, but babbles uncontrollably and never communicates what they intended to
  • Oblivious Observer – Pretends not to notice when you’re nearby, but is actually dying on the inside
  • Distant Devotee – Maintains composure and settles for a self-induced restraining order, close enough to see but never within range* to speak

*Actual distance may vary by individual. Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.

To take myself as an example, I used to be an E, changed to a T, then developed into a mix of O/D, and when I met Alexei Ratmansky, showed symptoms of an R. While I cannot offer any solutions for treatment (because I don’t know any), it’s not all doom and gloom because sometimes we overcome, like the story of my friend Lorry, who recently met her idol (and not so secret love) in Tokyo, the one and only Manuel Legris.

My name is Lorry and I am a fan of Manuel Legris, well, a devoted fan, maybe a follower…really, very much an admirer. It’s possible that I am sort of obsessed, wait…that sounds creepy…I’m not really a stalker—in the legal sense. Don’t you have to be caught to actually earn that title? I flew from Los Angeles, California, USA to Tokyo, Japan just to see him dance but that’s not crazy or anything. Being in a tin can for over 12 hours, going through customs, trying to figure out yen, and driving on the wrong side of the road in order to see a ballet dancer sort of inspires an amount of courage. After all that, NOT standing at the stage door seems to be crazier than standing there with pen and program in hand.

Other people are doing it too so how crazy can I look?! I just wanted to see him dance, and then I just wanted to see him up closer, and then I just wanted to have an autograph, and it was worth it. I have post-ballet glow that is brighter than the lights of Tokyo and let me tell you, these people like flashy lights a lot! I’m not going to be lurking around every stage door from now on but given the opportunity to stand restraining order proximity to someone who makes me die inside (and there actually aren’t that many people who fall into that category) I might actually go there again!

-Lorry, a former TOE

So you see dancers, there are success stories to give the rest of us meeker ones motivation, and hopefully you will see more and more adoring fans reminding you how amazing you are. With that in mind, it would also be most helpful if you can remember that some of us are easily spooked. Perhaps you can use your keen powers of observation to take note of the wide-eyed, quivering fan in the distance, paralyzed with fear and work your way through the crowd towards them (though sudden movements are discouraged, as it may cause us to flee).

For balletomanes that may be reading this, solemnly nodding your head in agreement, you may find it therapeutic to post a comment with an acronym of your self-diagnosis. Remember, realization of the problem is the first step towards a cure. Who knows, maybe your favorite dancers will read this and come to understand you better and we can all just learn to cope together.

Sincerely,

Steve, a DOTER

P.S. Please be sure to check out Lorry’s blog at bead109.wordpress.com to see photos from her adventure in Japan and to read more about her rendezvous with Manuel Legris!

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24 Responses to “An Open Letter to Famous Dancers”

  1. j. san July 16, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    I would never approach anyone I consider a celebrity for two reasons. The first is due to an experience I had as a wee child, seeing Annie for the first time on Broadway, Sarah Jessica Parker was playing the lead and as we left the theater, my mother saw the crowd at the stage door getting her autograph. All I remember from that is seeing a very tiny girl (she was also a child at the time) being accosted by a huge group of people and it left a bad feeling that I associated with more of an attack than an actual interaction. While I still have the autograph, it serves as more of a reminder why I have never stood by a stage door to see another performer, even if I truly wanted to thank him or her for a wonderful show.

    The second is simple shyness, it’s hard for me to talk to strangers period. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves about myself and if I could change it, I would. Last month, I saw the incredible “Sleep No More” which is an interpretation of “Macbeth” where dancers “perform” aspects of the play in a huge converted warehouse that acts as a fictional hotel (it’s much, much, much better than I described it here and it’s easily the most awesome thing ever!!!). After the performance, there is a bar where you can sit until I think they physically throw you out and I was having a drink when I spied the dancer who made the biggest impression on me and all I wanted was to say “thank you” for an incredible experience and I couldn’t do it. I regret that…. a lot.

    • youdancefunny July 17, 2011 at 5:43 am #

      Aw…well, they always say there is strength in numbers! Maybe peer pressure could get you to do it next time… 😉

  2. robin (mahrobi) July 17, 2011 at 1:14 am #

    hahahha! i i think i fall into several categories- T,O,& D mainly. you can just call me tod i suppose. 😉

    • youdancefunny July 17, 2011 at 5:46 am #

      Well, Robin the TOD, hopefully we shall have our day too! When I make it out to NYC, we’re going to have to figure out a way…even if I have a feeling it’s not going to go very smoothly!

      • robin (mahrobi) July 17, 2011 at 10:16 am #

        you do the talking- i’ll stand behind you and gawk. i’m SO totally lame- once i saw misha at the barber shop down the street (this was ages ago- before jake & peter knew each other, they were about 10 maybe?)- i was waiting for jake to finish his haircut & peter was waiting for his turn, audrey was maybe 4 & she was just dancing around the shop & peter says to his dad “oh, look! that little girl’s doing ballet!” & misha smiled & i couldnt even say ANYTHING! what a loser! i mean, it was just us in the barber shop & i couldn’t even speak. omg.

      • youdancefunny July 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

        At least you lived to tell the tale!

  3. Nina W July 17, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    Hello! I am Nina, and I am a TORD.

    I thought it was interesting what Bennet Gartside said about the stage door at ROH. I have never gone, out of fear of being seen as a complete nutcase…. And I just don’t like bothering people… So I just clap extra hard, and yell ‘Bravo’ to show my appreciation… Maybe I should get over my fear and go to the stage door sometime…

    Oh, and I have written fan letters. Only 2 though…

    • youdancefunny July 17, 2011 at 5:48 am #

      Yes! You must go at Covent Garden sometime! Try anything at least once I always say.

  4. Nerea Fernández July 17, 2011 at 3:25 am #

    I’m Nerea, also a TORD.
    Amazing post, Steve, as usual!

    When I go to the ROH again I will try to go to the backstage and say something to them. I just hope I don’t become a STORD suddenly. It might happen if I speak in English,but I WANT to meet La Rojo so bad, and I could speak in Spanish with her =D

    • youdancefunny July 17, 2011 at 5:50 am #

      When you meet La Rojo you’ll have to tell me all about it! I’m impressed with your language abilities too–you don’t want to know what would happen if I spoke Spanish with her!

      • Nerea Fernández July 17, 2011 at 6:37 am #

        Lol but I’m Spanish! That’s why! ^^

      • youdancefunny July 17, 2011 at 6:48 am #

        I know–but you’re English is perfect!

  5. Danseur Mom July 17, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    My son and I go to the ballet once a year in Los Angeles with a fellow ballet mom and her daughter. Last year we had the courage to wait (&wait &wait &wait) for the ABT principals to come out after a show. As we have two ballet student children, it is easier to use them as human shields and approach these wonderful dancers. We can then appear as just crazy moms acting on behalf of our children and not just crazy people =]
    As a response to an above post, we had a similar experience in NYC last year after Billy Elliot. My son & I were waiting in line at the stage door, which is cleverly lined with a restraining order, I mean fence, and we were literally shoved aside by a woman and her grown daughter. I managed a moderate body block to protect my son & we did get autographs and pics, which was wonderful, but geez…wouldn’t happen after a ballet.

    • Danseur Mom July 17, 2011 at 8:54 am #

      PS I vacillate between RR/SS depending on the circumstance…

      • youdancefunny July 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

        Human shields! That’s a funny image…”it’s for the kids, I swear!” But what a great experience for them too–may they grow up to be more confident than we are!

  6. Odette's Ordeal July 17, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    What a woderfully humorous post! As a former dancer and current creator of a web site that specifically honors the dancers of San Francisco Ballet, I can only tell you that the most important thing to remember is that Dancers are People too. Meaning that although they have spent nearly their entire lives in class and rehearsal honing their art with blood, sweat, and tears, not many are coached in relating to their adoring fans. And it can be overwhelming to the younger dancers without years of experience in dealing with admirers. Though every one of them yearns for appreciation, they might be as uncomfortable as you are!
    All dancers dance with a commitment only a dancer can truly understand, but I know of NO dancers who don’t appreciate fan mail (not repeated ‘stalker’ mail though!)
    nor corps dancers who don’t react favorably when a fan compliments them, especially as their contribution may go unheralded in the Press.
    Just remember that if a dancer does not react favorably, it probably has nothing to do with you. We have all left our workplace in a hurry at one time or another to deal with a personal issue-maybe a sick child, not feeling well, or just rushing to a family member or loved one. Keeping that in mind, I find that brevity is best and fan letters (written ‘in care of’ the Company they dance for) may be the best way to express one’s admiration. (This also enables you to compliment them in a manner that is eloquent, rather than sputtering and stuttering uncontollably out of fear!)
    At SFB, many dancers can be found in ‘standing room’ during performances and this seems to be an ideal place to compliment them-as long as you are not interrupting their conversation (even then, a polite ‘Sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your ‘Giselle’ can be met with acknowledgement and a warm smile), nor the performance itself.
    Best of luck to you in your endeavor to let your favorite artists know they are appreciated,
    Teri McCollum
    http://www.odettesordeal.com

    • youdancefunny July 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

      Thank you for your insight! It’s all very “Melinda Doolittle” isn’t it? I actually did standing room when I visited SFB for a couple of performances, but didn’t know the company at all so I didn’t see anyone. PRobably for the best because I would have had a heart attack if I did!

  7. Dee Kearney July 21, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    This is great!!! So funny and accurate. I am a oblivious observer. 🙂

    • youdancefunny July 22, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

      Well I hope that changes for you! Sometimes the quiet ones have the most interesting things to say. I’m sure your favorite dancers would love to hear!

  8. britt July 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    I’m an OD. And I LOVE your blog. Been lurking for awhile, will attempt to be less of a D about it 😉

    • youdancefunny July 27, 2011 at 9:00 am #

      Welcome! Thanks for commenting and I hope you’ll participate more, sooner rather than later! 😀

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