Amidst the hustle and bustle of tecnical rehearsals for Los Gatos Ballet’s Copellia and last-week-before-techical-rehearsals for Teen Dance Company’s 10th Anniversary Spring Concert, not to mention my daugther’s regional synchronized swimming meet in Sacramento this weekend (and my work), I’ve finally managed to finish transcribing the tape of my interview with Duncan Cooper. As promised, here’s part 3 . If you don’t remember who Duncan is, please go back to this post to read the brief bio I offered in part 1.
Continuing my conversation with Duncan from where I left off in part 2, I asked him to tell me how boys can learn to put emotion into their movement. While a good teacher helps, of course, beyond that there are some things boys can do to help them find their emotional center, if you will.
Learning to Move with Emotion
First, Duncan went back to the idea of studying the greats, but he stressed actually watching them dance. He related this to watching a superb basketball player play the game. “You can’t really understand what it is to play at that level until you actually play at that level,” he said. “No matter how much you play or learn the technique, it’s a completely different thing when you watch Lebron James or Michael Jordan or Julius Irving. They elevate the game beyond a sport into an art.” Duncan explained that young boys aren’t going to understand that until they watch Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, or Gregory Hines.
Stirring the Desire for Greatness
I’ve often wondered how you help a child—boy or girl—develop a desire for greatness. “You can’t expect someone to naturally be great until it is stirred within them,” Duncan explained. “A pas de deux is a pas de deux until you see two professional dancers really do it to another level. A convention is just a convention until you go to a convention where you are completely surrounded by dancers at a completely different tier and teachers that are really giving.” That’s when something stirs inside a young dancer and they also go to the next level, they rise to the occasion or they rise to the tier of those around them. Or they simply feel motivated to dance like the greats who came before them.
“That’s why watching the greats that have gone before him is important. That’s why it’s good at conventions to see a young guy dancer doing 10 turns. Then you say, “Wow. It can be done.” It motivates you to try to do it,” says Duncan.
I mentioned that we had sent Julian into the studio to do some dancing and choreography on his own in an attempt to help him “find himself” and that emotional center in his dance. Duncan commented, “It’s good to go do choreography himself, but it’s also good to get information to inspire himself. Have him find books on great male dancers. Or go on line and search on YouTube for great male dancers. Have him watch Danny Tidwell or Rasta Thomas, the young great dancers coming up there. He should see how they are doing it. And he should watch the older dancers. When you see that as a young dancer, it changes you.”
The Need for a Good Teacher and Getting Past the Music
None of this replaces the need for a good teacher who can impart the knowledge of how to dance with emotion, but Duncan said that happens in the studio with the teacher rather than here in a blog. “You have to find a teacher who is really able to move the student and inspire them to do the things they need to do. It’s the difference between an okay teacher teaching a jazz class and a really great teacher teaching the class. The great teacher can impart the information to the class correctly. That’s the worth of a great teacher or a great coach or a great choreographer.”
While connecting to the music also helps a young man learn to dance with emotion and to be inspired by his dancing, Duncan says boys have to get beyond the music and understand the phrasing and just “be” with the piece of music. You have to find the inspiration and emotion no matter what the music.
In the end, he said, “What you do inside the studio is just as important as what you do outside the studio.” All of this comes together to create a dancer and dance that become less about dance and more about art.
Next time: One last post with information from Duncan Cooper! This time Duncan discusses dance strengths and weaknesses, psychological issues, making choreography your own, and his personal view on the difficulty of being a male dancer.