First dance memories
The first time I attended a dancing class, I had never heard about ballet and no one in my family was familiar with it. A friend was taking ballet classes and her mother offered to take me along. At first my mother thought it was nothing for her daughter. She was a professional athlete; who took part in the Olympics. She then changed her mind and saw it as an opportunity for me to try something different.
I remember my first pair of little ballet shoes and how puzzled I was about what they could be for. I was nine. My visual memories of this first dance class are those of a big studio with many mirrors and of the teacher, a beautiful black woman. She put classical music on. I had never heard classical music before, my parents only listened to rock. I remember being completely captivated by the music.
Vulnerability does not come naturally to me, expressing my feelings had always been a challenge especially for my younger self. I found that I could express myself better through music than through speaking. Music allowed me to let go, to be sensitive, to let myself be carried away. It gave me a language.
That is my first striking memory, music taking me to some place I could not go to otherwise.
I still believe this today. My English has declined as I have been away from the US for very long. My Danish keeps improving but it still is not my mother tongue. The one language I do have is body language.
Performances dear to my heart.
The one I am thinking of is not such a distant memory. It was “La Sylphide”. In Denmark as a foreigner, to do a Bournonville’s major role, was a dream. It was such a gift and a challenge. I danced a ballet I never thought I would have the opportunity to dance. Receiving the gift of doing the role was a big moment in my career; I felt I could learn so much from it. Just at that time, I was going through a break up, the first real heartache in my life. And it happened to be the first time as well I had a serious injury. I had an acute blood infection in my leg and I was forced to take time off and have surgery.
All this happened within the same week. I came back to rehearse the role after my surgery and had my debut a month later than originally scheduled..
I was grateful to be alive, to be able to dance, to feel I could love again. And going through the emotional turmoil of being La Sylphide, who is a character who causes tragedy, was overwhelming. After the first performance took me several days to mentally liberate myself from this role. It completely took possession of me. I do not remember anything about it. I do not know how I danced it. I was so present at that moment.
I felt as if I became a different person.
What I wish for my audience to experience has changed over the years. I think, mostly, that I wish they are taken away from their daily lives, transported to somewhere else. That the music, the setting, the dancing, the choreography transforms them for a few hours. That they see beauty still exists in this world. The older I get, the more susceptible I have become to see this world, the more sensitive I become to its tragedies. Sometimes, there are ballets that on a personal level have a meaning, can relate to one’s personal life or political choices. I hope the people in the audience go home and question their lives and their choices. I would love them to be transported and be present in the special moments with me. I hope a performance can be that captivating that people’s attention can be sustained.
Responsibility towards society
As artists we should keep our art alive. Humanity should have different sorts of expression; whether it is through music, through painting or dancing. Art tends to be neglected. People see it as a luxury. I hate the idea that dancing is a dying art form. I hope that somehow this will change.
Few people in Denmark realize what a treasure the Royal Danish Ballet Company is. The company does not have the aura and reputation within Denmark as it has internationally. People also struggle to understand, how you can devote your life to something that is financially not very rewarding.
I also feel a big responsibility to start encouraging the next generation. They should build their own self-worth, their own self dignity. That is not about what you see on social media, it is about taking someone into a story with you, captivating people for a few hours and not how high you can jump! I want to pass the torch onto them. I am so grateful for everything that I have been given and now I want to share it with younger people.
My greatest ambition as an artist would be to pass my art to the new generation of artists, so that the stories I am telling today would continue being told. Convey my passion and skills to young artists and get new audiences understand that art should be a priority in their life.
Amy Watson is Principal at the Royal Danish Ballet