|San Francisco, CA||October 12, 2018||24 Photos|
André first entered the world of ballet as yet another extracurricular activity at the age of ten. Her parents enrolled her and her siblings in piano, chess, and swimming lessons among others, whereas the introduction to ballet came from the desire to partake in more social activity; “My parents enrolled us in a thousand different things, we were doing everything. Everything was either underwater or with a tutor. Ballet was more social”. The latter was the aspect that attracted her most to dance; "I liked ballet, the costumes and all were really fun, I really enjoyed it. But I think it was also the type of people who went to ballet. I liked the atmosphere, the friends I found — all like-minded people, even at that age I think."
André, now a principal dancer with the esteemed San-Francisco Ballet, describes that particular mindset as a “mode”. Ballet in her view propels a kind of openness, curiosity, and willingness that is inherent to the craft; “I think anyone who loves ballet, who likes to dance, is already in a mode that you're open to liking things. People who choose to do ballet are ones who are willing to improve and be wrong every day, and also just have fun.”
Ballet creates this unique environment, she explains, where you are able to become friends with people you are ‘competing’ with. “I think it says something about people who can do that on a daily basis — ‘compete’ and then hang out, it brings out the best in people.” Performing ballet professionally, she says, comes down to a group of individuals who partake in the art not for monetary gain or fame, “it’s too hard to do it for any of those. You just do it because you love it and you enjoy working, period.”
"Ballet has made me focused. It also made me empathetic, in understanding other people, working with them, but also towards myself.”
In the world of ballet, the process itself is key. Professional dance, André attests, is for those who "enjoy the process of working”. It becomes not about the outcome, the performance on stage, but rather it is about learning to harness and cherish the challenges of the process itself, which is something André proclaims, that is rooted in the art of dance. “I think I will always be a dancer, in the sense that it has changed and shaped me as a person completely.” The pillars behind the art of ballet, therefore, echo far beyond the studio confines and transpire into aspects of daily life, to the extent that ballet has taught her to embrace the ebb and flow of the every day; “it’s not about the final product. Everything I do in every aspect of life, I think of it as a process. Routines and everything. Ballet has made me focused. It also made me empathetic, in understanding other people, working with them, but also towards myself.”
In André’s view ballet encourages tolerance and empathy; it accentuates the taking on of a challenge simply for the sake of the challenge itself, while simultaneously embracing one’s continuous growth and strive for betterment. André explains that dance has made her more empathetic in that it forces her to be optimistic; “you show up in the studio every day in order to detect problems in the way you do things but you also believe that you can change them and make them better. I think that that, in a way, is a mindset that leads to a very happy life. You show up each day thinking you can be and do better, it’s a good way to think about things”.
"I think my approach to ballet changed a lot, the way I think about it changed as well. In dance, having built a foundation, sometimes the way to improve means tearing it down and rebuilding every once in a while, because sometimes you stop improving. Those moments are very important and at the same time very difficult because they force you to work extremely hard. Ballet requires at times making massive and conscious changes; in a sense, it’s about maturing. It is about having moments where you look back and reassess the way you do things, how you act and behave in the studio, the way you focus on things or don’t focus on other things.”
"You show up in the studio every day in order to detect problems in the way you do things but you also believe that you can change them and make them better. I think that that, in a way, is a mindset that leads to a very happy life."
“I really like dancing, to be honest. When you are happy you dance, so in ballet, you are essentially perpetuating that moment. For me, it is as if you are forcing your body to be at its optimum level. You get to express yourself creatively every day, to know how your body wants to move, and you become very aware of it. I think dancing makes you a conscious person, aware of the space you occupy on this planet. It’s important to know where your body and mind are, I think dance helps with that.”
For André, the most meaningful moments in her career occurred whilst in the process of working towards an objective.”What’s interesting is when I think of the most significant moments they are hardly on stage. There are good performances that I’ve had, but I think a lot of these moments were actually when I was working towards something and achieving it. Having to be better and then becoming that which you wanted to become, moments where you say to yourself — ‘O.K. I am going to have to work very hard and I will get there’. Those moments are the most poignant and significant to me.”What advice would you give your younger self?
“I’d say worry a little less. Have faith in the every day and don’t get ahead of yourself with thoughts like what is going to happen. Once you start thinking like that you prevent yourself from actually concentrating on the present. You have to trust that you will get there by working hard, by being conscientious, and that’s it. It’s an easy thing to say in hindsight when you see things working out, but other times when you are like ‘what if I work really hard and it doesn’t pay off?’ The thing is, even if it doesn’t — you’ve worked hard and you’ve learned how to work hard. There is nothing worse than regretting the time that you didn’t.”
Perfecting the art of living in the moment, André takes design classes in her time away from the studio while also dabbling in painting and sculpture. “Right now I am doing all of these things; I did some costume design for ballet. I’m also putting some more effort and focus into painting. I don’t practice a specific style, but I like the use of colors and chunky paint. Mostly it’s just been experimenting.” If she wasn’t a dancer she says she would probably be a designer. "I am studying industrial design so I think I would do something similar, I enjoy that.”What's on your playlist right now?
“It’s pretty eclectic. This week I’ve been obsessed with Childish Gambino. I also love War on Drugs, Jessie Weir, and Emmylou Harris, I think she is the best. I like the oldies too. 70’s artists like Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, Bruce Springsteen is definitely a go-to.
“One of the favorite things I have, which is very strange, is this little lamp from a bar in Shanghai, someone gave it to me. It’s a little Chinese beer lamp and I think its one of the coolest things I own.”
“In dance, having built a foundation, sometimes the way to improve means tearing it down and rebuilding every once in a while, because sometimes you stop improving. Those moments are very important and at the same time very difficult, because they force you to work extremely hard. Ballet requires at times making massive and conscious changes. In a sense it’s about maturing.”
André has been living in San Fransisco for the past thirteen years. “I love it, I really really do. I think it’s one of the few cities that you can be as weird as you want and people will never think twice. It’s cool enough that you can do things but it’s also calm enough that you can just hang out. It’s a good city to focus on something you really like to do.” Next, she will be going on a company tour first to D.C. and then to N.Y., after which the San-Fransisco Ballet gears up for the holiday season with The Nutcracker at the San-Fransisco Opera House.
“I think dancing makes you a conscious person, aware of the space you occupy on this planet. It’s important to know where your body and mind are, dance helps with that.”
It’s very simple, just activities really. During the pre-season, I work six days a week and I am in the studio for about ten hours a day. Once the season starts it’s insane. It doesn’t really leave room for much. The perfect day would be waking up and getting coffee, walking around a bit and going to work for a few hours. Then meeting up with friends and doing a little arts and crafts party, followed by dinner. Then maybe watch some movies and sleep.Any parting advice?
“Speak up. In general, people need to speak up, say what it is they mean. If we all just talk about our issues I think it would be a better place”.
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