Some of you may recognize our title this month. Does it take you back to the late 60s and early 70s, when America’s youthful males were obsessed with gas guzzling muscle cars, and had high hopes that the girl of their dreams would fast become a woman during their courtship?
America’s young people were edging towards a growing idealistic counter-culture, and during that era, The Beach Boys were the pre-eminent American music group.
Their songs focused on the nearly eternal sunny days of Southern California, surfing, and the pursuit of fun.
In the album Today, which was released in 1965, and was on the best seller charts for 50 weeks, they did a cover of the Bobby Freeman song, Do You Wanna Dance?
Do you wanna dance and hold my hand
Tell me baby, I’m your lover man
Oh baby, do you wanna dance?
Do you wanna dance under the moonlight
Squeeze me, squeeze me baby, all through the night
Oh baby, Do you wanna dance?
Well, do you, do you, do you, do you wanna dance…
In the same album, there was another tune, this one penned by Beach Boy Brian Wilson, called Dance, Dance, Dance.
Dance dance dance — now the beat’s really hot
Dance dance dance — right there on the spot…
These lyrics weren’t really about dancing. No, the real meaning stemming from these lyrics was the desire to love and be loved while you were having fun. But while all this hand holding and tight squeezing was going on, other people took a serious interest in dance. For them it was something other than a prelude to a lot of heavy breathing, fumbling, and groping in the back seat of the family sedan, borrowed from Dad under the condition of getting it home safe by midnight.
These people became ‘dancers’. Whether they aimed to be hoofers on Broadway, or chorus boys, or prima ballerinas, they were passionate about this art form, and dead serious about their futures.
But most of the rest of us took no notice of ballet, deeming it either too boring or incomprehensible, or worse — an activity where effeminate men pranced around in tights, lifting bone-thin women into the air, that is, when these women were not running around on the stage, trying to stand on their pointed toes, to music that was sure to put you to sleep.
Thirty years after the Beach Boys crooned these tunes, comedian Jackie Mason appeared on a Broadway stage doing a one-man show. One of his monologues was about ‘The Ballet’.
Mason was careful to point out that this was indeed a serious art form, requiring years and years of practice; however, people went to it only to be seen by other people who also cared more about being noticed than actually watching the performance. Mason concluded that people might as well attend the ballet in their pajamas because they all were going to fall asleep anyway.
A few years back, I went to the movies to see The Company. We watched this film that laid bare all the grueling work and effort that go into being a ballet dancer.
Produced by Neve Campbell, and featuring the amazing dancers of the Joffrey Ballet, this was a terrific movie, visually quite exciting, and most informative, as well as providing us with a new perspective into the competitive world of dancing.
I was amazed at the athleticism required, and the beauty of the performers.
Chinese artist Guan Zeju is also fascinated by the ballet.
Just look at the exquisite beauty of his many paintings portraying young ballerinas.
His magnificent works of art are breathtaking.
His ability to combine the sunlit sylvan setting of nature with the light and airy spaces of the dance studios, provides the perfect backdrop for the private moments of the dancers.
I am almost positive that — even after looking at the beauty of this art, watching The Company, and reading this column — you’ll be no wiser than you were about Nureyev, Baryshnikov or Nijinsky, to name a few of the past biggest stars in the ballet galaxy.
You may not recognize names like Dame Margot Fonteyne, or Anna Pavlova, the deceased past queens of the ballet. You may know what the Bolshoi is, but not know its home city. Well, don’t expect me to fill you in with lots of details about those names.
They are simply the most famous and most legendary names from the world of ballet, and the only ones I know.
And so ends our lecture for this month. You still may not know much about ballet, but at least you had a small peek and learned a little.
Here at The Arts, we like our models to be less nimble on their feet, and we like them best when they are posing for an artist rather than flitting about on a stage. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate ballet – it’s just that when I had an opportunity to see the ballet often while living in Manhattan for many years, I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity. I did see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater a few times. Back in the days when Judith Jamison was the lead dancer. Now she is the Artistic Director. After seeing The Company and having a look at these paintings, I wish I had seen more dance.
Well, that is that. The opportunity came and went. If you like looking at these painting , then visit us again. In fact, please visit our website as often as you can. No training is required. You won’t have to go to ballet school. Nor will you have to be able to do a pirouette.
Originally published on August 4th, 2004, this article has been updated for publication in The Arts on November 12th, 2009