I found this article yesterday about the Fernanda Bianchini Association of Ballet and Arts for the Blind in Sao Paulo, Brazil and was just floored!
Ballet is such a visual art. It’s obsessed with image, especially its own. On a practical level though, a lot of ballet learning is done by watching. You learn by imitating and emulating. Sometimes I’m not even sure which step is which but if someone demonstrates it, I just watch and copy. My first ballet teacher from middle school recommended watching the advanced level classes to get a better feel for what should be done- to get the little garnishes that make beautiful dancers so beautiful. If you’re in a class with everyone at the same level, you won’t get to see these garnishes (except from the teacher of course). Not being able to see means not being able to copy anyone. So that time when you space out in the middle of the combo explanation = you’re screwed. You can’t hide behind anyone. Maybe this teaches you to be 150% focused and completely responsible for what you do and how you do it. But it must also be a little weird not knowing when you’re being watched.
Oh, the lovely mirror. A blind dancer doesn’t have her best frienemy constantly in front of her. The teacher must be the mirror. She must tell you what you’re doing wrong and just as importantly, what you’re doing right. The mirror doesn’t just tell you about yourself though- it lets you see others which is often worse. You envy another dancer’s weight, their beautiful extension, their amazing feet. Being blind gets rid of the visual reminders that incite this envy which often turns to feelings of inadequacy. Only the teacher could give you clues as to how well the dancers around you are doing. I guess it’s sort of like when you are at the very end (or beginning) of the barre facing a wall with no one in your peripheral. You just have to trust that you’re doing it right and following the music.
In the video you’ll see one of the dancers holding on to her teacher’s arms and following/learning that way. Sometimes touch provides more information than vision for the sighted as well. I prefer classes where the teacher isn’t afraid to get their hands “dirty” and touch you. 🙂 I understand some people have rather large personal space bubbles. Mine is a bit on the small side since I come from a warm place where people say hello by giving kisses on the cheek. But really, in dance you sometimes need the tactile input to get it right.
Maybe one of the upsides of not being able to see is not having stage fright? Before I started wearing contacts, it was really easy to pretend that no one was in the audience because it was just one black blur. I’m sure these dancers have other fears though. They must trust so much more than sighted dancers. Without sight, you must trust that your teacher is correcting you every time you do something wrong. You must trust them to not let you look silly. You must trust yourself to move in space and not be afraid. How terrifying is it walking into your pitch-black dining room grasping for the overhead light that you just can’t seem to find? It’s like trying to walk through water -you feel like there’s something constantly in front of you even if there isn’t. These dancers must not have that hesitation.
It’s funny- I’ve complained about my age being a limiting factor in my dancing but there are so many other obstacles I could have to overcome to dance. Blindness. Deafness. Paralysis. Missing limbs. An aging body is chump change. Sure in the dance world it’s a handicap but really it’s society’s perception of what dance is and what should look like that is the handicap. Fernanda’s dancers are an inspiration- the only person stopping you from attaining something is you.