In this short essay, Christine Wright (Ballet) shares her childhood relationship with dance as part of a globe-trotting military family and speaks about her use of dance as a ‘tool to navigate her way through life.’
When I was a child my father was in the military and so in typical military brat fashion I moved with my family every few years from place to place. My father, though in the army, was connected to the American embassy so we weren’t stationed at army bases but lived “a la native” in the various countries in which we lived. One of the consistent aspects of my life back then was that upon arriving at a new location my mother would enroll me in dance class, and so since the age of four I’ve been dancing. The last country we were stationed in was Tunisia. Though I danced for a while there, the beauty and mystery of this land with its Arabic culture and numerous and various ancient Roman ruins compelled me and so eventually I quit dancing.
My father retired from the service and we moved back to the States when I was 12 years old. After having lived in an ancient culture I suddenly found myself living in suburban Virginia. In Tunisia I had attended a small international school, maybe 10 students to a class. Now I found myself attending a junior high where the student body was 2000 and each class had 40 students. I felt nothing in common with the kids around me. I felt alien and alienated. I hadn’t even seen a television.
As was the custom, upon arriving in the States my mother enrolled me in a ballet school but this time there wasn’t the mystery and beauty of an ancient culture to distract me. On the contrary, I clung to dance. Amidst the chaos of my inner life it became a place where I could reside. I hadn’t the faintest clue who I was but somehow when I took fifth position, when I began to move I had a sense of myself. There was a place within me that was inaccessible to me but for movement. It felt like this place was the essence of myself, the essential me. The only way I could connect with it was through dancing. I couldn’t tell you how I felt but I could inflect a phrase of movement and express it. I couldn’t even feel this place in myself except if I were dancing, so dance became the tool through which I could navigate my way through life, the way I survived this very difficult period.
Even to this day, though I have a much more developed sense of myself, I am still much more comfortable and have a greater sense of satisfaction in expressing myself through the abstract world. But to express oneself, one has to have great skill. If I were to try to express myself through the piano there would be extremely limited results as I can’t play the piano. In teaching I have no interest in training someone to be a ballet dancer. I am much more interested in teaching someone to have skill, to develop a movement language with which they then can express themselves. Then perhaps they can experience the richness and fullness of their dancing, and it can endure for their lifetime, as it has mine.
Christine Wright has been a prominent figure in the New York dance scene for four decades. She toured internationally as a leading dancer with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company from 1976 – 1987. She was also a guest artist with the Elisa Monte Dance Company, and has worked with celebrated choreographers Blondell Cummings, Ohad Naharin and Zvi Gotheiner. Since her retirement as a dancer in 1987, she has taught a professional level ballet class in New York City, and guest teaches annually for both Toronto Dance Theatre and The School of Toronto Dance Theatre.
Visit peggybakerdance.com to register for morning or afternoon ballet classes in this year’s August Intensive