Company class: Confessions of an anxious ballet pianist, day #1 (Advent 2014)
My post about problems of playing for a “White Swan” rehearsal generated a lot of interesting comments from dance and music friends on Facebook. One musician friend sympathised with my fears that I’m getting worse, not better, saying “our wanting to please [dancers/teachers] always leaves us wondering, even with a 20 year career behind us… ‘am I really any good?!'” I wasn’t going to do an Advent Calendar this year, owing to a lack of time, and not being able to think of a topic I could easily write 24 posts on. But then I remembered that after that comment, I’d started a post about the anxiety I sometimes feel about playing for company class, but I never finished or published it. Could I write 24 posts about ballet-pianist anxiety? Oh yes, easily. So, for the benefit of other pianists who may think they’re alone in their fears, or for teachers who think they’re the only people who worry about how they’re doing in class, here’s my 2014 advent calendar, Confessions of an anxious ballet pianist.
Day #1 is playing for company class, which these days, often fills me with dread. I’ve paced up and down corridors, wondering whether I still have a chance to call in sick, or whether the moment has finally come for me to walk out of the building and say “I’m sorry, I just can’t do this any more.” It’s partly age. As you get older, it’s not just policemen, but dancers too, that seem to get younger. You walk into a studio of the fittest, healthiest, coolest people on earth at the top of their game. You walk in, knowing that in comparison, you’ll only ever be in the middle of yours.
Then there’s the moment when you realise that nobody knows your tunes any more, except for a handful of teachers. When you meet a teacher who does, you wonder whether everyone feels like they’ve had to go to their grandparents’ for christmas. So when you occasionally get a flicker of recognition from someone in the class, it’s lovely. You can never tell when you might hit on something that’s been placed in a more recent film, or someone sang in a choir, or knows as a different song in another language (see my post on Roll out the Barrell for more on that one).
What calmed my anxiety down recently was realising that in company class, people – teachers as well as dancers – are often too focused on what they’re doing to be as bothered about the detail of what you’re playing as you are. As long as you get to the end of the class together without any major mishaps, that’s already an achievement, like Bettelheim’s concept of the “good enough parent.” In fact, maybe it’s the achievement: class probably shouldn’t be about anyone drawing attention to themselves for being spectacular, but about getting through it as a team.