Pain Is Not Necessary

If there are dancers reading this column, you should check out a place called Oakland Theater of Dance in Oakland, California. It was founded by a classically-trained dancer, Jane Brown. She teaches how to work WITH your body, not to force your body and thus destroy it. Using her knowledge of how to work with the body's natural structure, she danced professionally into her 70s.  She may still be dancing now in her 90s; I don't know.

One small example of what she teaches is a different approach to turnout.  Turnout is that posture of the feet which ballet dancers do: heels together, toes pointing away from the center towards the outside of the body.  Many ballet dancers are taught that they must force their feet into the unnatural position of turnout; that their feet must hurt; that pain is part of the sacrifice for being an artist.  Dancers are taught to ignore their bodies and work through the pain.

For a performing artist, it is never good to tune out what your body is telling you (even pain.)  Your body is your only instrument; you must be keenly in touch with it in order to use it to perform.  Particularly, an actor or dancer must be sensitive to those emotional inputs that manifest as physical sensations, for that is how we allow our emotional selves to interpret the character.

Degas ballerina

Let's see…let me be more specific about this. Let's say I am playing opposite Johnny Depp; I am a business partner of his in this film.


Johnny Depp

Johnny says to me, “Did you get those expense sheets turned in?”

I look at him; he is SO HOT!  I get a bit tight in my stomach, a teeny, tiny bit trembly; for less than a sixteenth of a second I think,

“Man, I'd like to push my tongue into that little hollow place behind his left ear.”

Johnny Depp

My character.s next line, however, is,

“The accountant did not return them to me.”

There is no romance written into the story line.

no romance

However, if I can pay attention to the slight, subtle physical signals my body is giving me, I will be able to give a more layered, nuanced, true-to-real-life performance.  I will be able to show the camera, for that sixteenth of a second, that I have a secret lust for Johnny's character.  It makes me more of a real human.  Even if nothing ever happens with that attraction.

Or, maybe Johnny sees it and responds negatively.  He shrinks back just a little because he doesn't like older women.

HIS character's line, however is simply "Shit.”

So, maybe I then have a little bit more to show the camera as I leave the scene, being a bit crushed.  Makes my character more human.

crushed heart

And so on.

Please, don't ignore your body.  LISTEN to your body.

body painted

Jane Brown teaches that turn-out is natural.  She has watched healthy people walk barefoot and she has observed that our toes naturally point a bit outwards.  (The stuff your etiquette teacher or mom told you eons ago: “Stand with your toes pointed forward,” is not correct anatomically.  Toes forward is the un-natural posture; it twists the hips and the knees into a state that could become unhealthy /broken.

So, Jane teaches dancers to work WITH their natural turn-out; to train their feet to gently go further out.  NOT to force their feet.


She does understand that ballet has demanded we push ourselves further-further-further to a point where we hurt our bodies permanently.  That is a choice a dancer might make; but also might choose not to make.  Jane and the dancers she trains dance classically, but not strictly abusively balletically.  Jane's dancers can dance well into their old age because they have not destroyed their bodies.

Jane understands movement so well that she also has special classes for people who can't walk for various structural, disease-caused or accidental reasons. She trains them to recreate the evolutionary development of erect posture…how we got to the 2-legged stance over hundreds of millions of years.  She has the immobile first wiggle on their bellies like snakes, then creep like lizards, then crawl like babies.  Eventually many formerly paralyzed people walk again.

snake with legs

Besides that, she has a wonderful sense of social justice, and many of the works she choreographs are about taking care of the world.

One of my heroes, Jane Brown.

, , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes