3/29/2017 Caitlin M. Brust

On Movement and Human Expression

This magazine article is part of Winter 2017/Issue 88
  • ballet lester 022117 0019 Image Credit: Matthew Lester
  • ballet lester 022117 0076 Image Credit: Matthew Lester
  • ballet lester 022117 0155 Image Credit: Matthew Lester

“Ballet was created as the dance of kings,” says Lynn Matluck Brooks, the Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and Dance, “but we are not dancing for kings and queens anymore.”

While Renaissance rulers once enjoyed ballet performances in their courts, Brooks teaches her students in “Introduction to Ballet” that the dance has evolved to reflect modern audiences. Ballerinas, known in earlier eras to be elegant and fragile, are symbols of power and grace on the contemporary stage.

In the studio, students from all backgrounds in dance disperse across the floor to warm up their bodies. Local pianist Pat Daugherty plays a calm melody as Brooks guides the class through controlled movements of the head and neck, then the shoulders and back, flowing through the joints and muscles down to the feet.

The piano tune transitions to a lighthearted eight-count, and the students take their positions along the ballet bars. Recalling the sequences from previous classes, Brooks gives opening instructions. In unison, the students arrange their feet, bend their knees, rise to their toes, and reach upward.

First position. Plié. Elevé. Stretch.

The class preceptor, Lily Fortin ’17, a psychology major and dance minor, reminds them to resist leaning forward, to remain tall and steady. These nuances in technique are crucial—preserving the beauty of the pose and protecting the body from injury.

Second position. Plié. Cambré. Stretch.

And so on. As the movements become more intricate, Brooks tests for the meaning of en cloche, the French term for “like a bell,” or the pendulum of a clock. On a grandfather clock, the pendulum swings while the frame stands firm. In ballet, the arms and legs move and stretch while the spine and core stay aligned.

With each sequence, the students extend themselves just slightly further. Fortin notes that “Introduction to Ballet” is a space in which to grow as a dancer and build confidence as a person by “diving right into each movement without the fear of being incorrect.” The students are willing to test their physical limits to reach new milestones in their form.

But ballet is not only a work of skill; it is a work of art and expression. As the students practice their port de bras sequences, moving and placing their arms, Brooks encourages, “Imagine that you are dancing for someone you really want to communicate with, even though each movement might feel like a simple action.”

The class gathers at one end of the studio for cross-floor exercises. Majestic music animates the room, and then in distinct lines, groups of students take deliberate, delicate strides across the floor. Each part of their step, the extension of their arms, and the direction of their gaze have a purpose in the brief performances.

Since founding the Franklin & Marshall dance program in 1984, Brooks has taught her students to think critically not only about steps and movement, but also about how steps and movement have evolved historically, what they mean kinesthetically, and how they play out socially and culturally—since, she reasons, “movement is so closely tied to human expression.”

James Morogiello ’18, a theater major who studied abroad at the London Dramatic Academy in the fall, reflects that the combination of theoretical and practical study shows the true relevance of the performing arts in life and learning. “You learn from practicing the techniques taught in class and then reflecting on your progress in a journal,” he says. “There are ups and downs in the process, which can be terrifying—but I like to think life's a bit like that, too.”

When the day’s practice concludes, members of the class bow to each other, the teacher, and Dougherty at the piano.

To Fortin, each gathering in the studio signals new progress, both intellectually and physically. Because the study of dance is holistic, she observes, “as students, we are often taught that all of our knowledge resides in the brain—and that the body has little to do with it. In dance classes, we reconnect the brain and the body so that our whole being is a source of knowledge.” 

TDF 117
Introduction to Ballet

Lynn Matluck Brooks, the Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and Dance

Monday, Wednesday & Friday, 1:30 p.m. – 2:50 p.m. Roschel 112


Basic technique and theory of ballet, including the anatomical laws governing ballet movement and investigation of the style and aesthetic of ballet technique. The course emphasizes the practice of dancing as well as that of writing, thinking and speaking clearly about ballet. 


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