David Bruce: Create, Then Take a Break — Education

Education

• When Natalia Makarova was a young ballet dancer in the Soviet Union, she fell while rehearsing Cinderella, knocking the wind out of herself so badly that she couldn’t cry out although she had dislocated her shoulder. Later, as Antonina Ivanovna, the company masseuse, was putting her bones back in their proper place, young Natalia cried out. Her teacher, Natalia Mikhailovna Dudinskaya, a virtuoso dancer turned teacher, heard her, so she came in and talked to her, saying, “Don’t worry, everything will be all right. You’ll be on stage in three or four days. We, too, frequently danced in pain and hurt. It’s nothing. As you see, we made it.” This may seem callous, but later Ms. Makarova realized that her teacher was right. One of the things that she learned from Ms. Dudinskaya was how to “triumph over the body.”

• Zen master Busshin was once asked by a monk, “Do heaven and hell exist?” Busshin answered, “No.” Overhearing Busshin, some samurai, who were generous benefactors of the temple and who were amazed by his answer, asked him the same question: “Do heaven and hell exist?” This time Busshin answered, “Yes.” The samurai then asked Busshin why he was being contradictory. Busshin replied, “If I tell you there’s neither heaven nor hell, where would the alms come from?” By the way, Zuigan, the Chinese Zen master, used to wake up every morning and have this conversation with himself: “Master? … Yes, sir! … Be wide awake! … Yes, sir! … And from now on don’t let anyone deceive you! … Yes, sir! Yes, sir!”

• Maestro Serge Koussevitzky had enormous control over the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He had the final say over who would be the guest conductors during his rare breaks, and he had final say over the programs they would conduct. Whenever a guest conductor submitted a program that included a work by Tchaikovsky, Maestro Koussevitzky would delete that work from the program—the only conductor allowed to perform Tchaikovsky with the Boston Symphony Orchestra was himself. By the way, maestro Koussevitzky, who was born in Russia, occasionally gave conducting classes, at one of which he made a famous remark: “Fine, fine, that’s awful.”

• White is the color of innocence. Someone just beginning to study a martial art wears a white belt. In time, and with much use, the belt becomes darker and darker, almost black. Later, with much more use, the belt frays and grows light in color again, signifying a return to innocence—something much prized in Zen. By the way, you can learn by teaching. This is well understood in the martial arts—the dojo, the place where the martial arts are taught and practiced, is known traditionally as the “Place of Enlightenment.” Also by the way, Bernie Bernheim began to study karate when he was 57. At the age of 61, he earned his black belt.

• Geoff Edwards, who now lives in Whangarei, New Zealand, was a 13-year-old student in London in 1953—when teachers were strict and often gave as punishment a whack with a cane on a student’s left hand. He remembers, “John Smith often got a whack. One day in a science lesson on gravity, John kept dropping things on the floor, laughing, and blaming gravity. The teacher, who was also our sports teacher, opened the window, grabbed Smith from his seat and dangled him head-first out of the second-storey window, holding him by the ankles. Then he shouted, ‘Now, Smith, do you understand the GRAVITY of the situation?’”

• As a teenager, future ballerina Patricia Bowman took lessons from the great choreographer Michel Fokine. She says that he taught in percentages. For example, she would hold her leg in a certain position, and he might say, “Your leg is only 35 percent. Could I have maybe 65?” Or he might say, “That’s very good, but could I have 100 percent?” By the way, dancers sometimes resort to odd ways of making money. Lar Lubovitch, a dancer and choreographer of note, worked early in his career as a go-go dancer at Trude Heller’s Greenwich Village nightclub. He danced on a narrow ledge and held onto a doorknob for balance.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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