The Madonnabowl brought back a favorite rant topic for me, the importance of training in the arts.
Madge looked terrific, sounded the same, but her dancing was MIA. (I couldn't resist that, sorry. Perhaps M.I.A.'s wayward finger took the focus away from Madonna's lackluster showing in the movement category.)
Shaky balance, plodding moves, and drab choreography characterized her Roman extravaganza. Missing was her usual all hands-on-deck approach that so enlivened her shows and videos in the past.
You could see her thinking, step one, kick two, and so on. Looking overly careful, she played it safe. Really? For the Super Bowl? And with a world tour coming up, including a Houston stop on Oct. 24.
It's not an age issue either; Madonna canceled her own aging. You could see her thinking, step one, kick two, and so on. Looking overly careful, she played it safe. Really? For the Super Bowl? And with a world tour coming up, including a Houston stop on Oct. 24.
One thing was clear. The material girl is not in class. If she is, she should get her money back.
Madonna got her start as a dancer, with a scholarship at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Later, in her megastarhood, she was a pioneer in including top professional dancers in her videos and shows. She hired the 2007 Emmy-winning choreographer Mia Michaels way before she was a So You Think You Can Dance judge. Without a set of killer good pipes like Grammy sweeper Adele, the pop icon wisely made theatricality, physicality and her ultra-toned shape her M.O.
Dancers related to Madonna's inclusion of sophisticated choreography and her own rigorous, for a pop star, training. She was never a great dancer, but knew how to surround herself with performers who made her look better. For a rock star, she has a boatload of originality, an ability to re-invent herself once a decade and a solid work ethic.
So you can understand my disappointment.
Here's the thing: you have to train for what you do. In the movement science biz, it's called "the specificity of training." You can be strong as a bull and flexible as a yogaista, but if you are not doing time at the barre on a daily basis, some of us can tell. I can sniff out rusty training a mile away.
Rehearsing eight hours a day doesn't cut it either. Over rehearsing and under training has a particularly stale look. You know what comes next, but not what comes inbetween. This is the reason why the "dance recital" remains a dreaded activity. The little tykes' brains have been overly programmed to perform a set of steps. When they mess up, it's not pretty.
You can be strong as a bull and flexible as a yogaista, but if you are not doing time at the barre on a daily basis, some of us can tell. I can sniff out rusty training a mile away.
Y'all know me as a wise cracking culture geek. Outside of Houston, I'm the poster girl for dancers' health, as I have chronicled just about every ache, pain and newfangled training idea in Dance Magazine's Your Body column, Dance Teacher or Pointe Magazine. Whether it's Tai Chi, Gyrotonic, Feldenkrais or Continuum, I have covered dancers doing it. They are an adventurous tribe of crosstrainers, and will seek out esoteric methods way before the public finds out about them.
Crosstaining hit dance in a big way. Any savvy performing arts health practitioner will tell you how it goes. You cannot get all you need to be a healthy dancer in class alone. Dancers regularly train in the gym with weights, pilates, Gyrotonic, yoga, a Bosu, rollers and other gadgets. Training has to be supplemented to address weaknesses, flexibility issues and overworked zones, all of which vary from dancer to dancer. This is a vital component of keeping dancers healthy and on stage.
Trouble sets in when you just do all of that and forget to attend class.
At 53, Madonna looked fit as can be. She practices Ashtanga yoga, which, due to it's more flowing nature, is a terrific compliment to dancing. Yoga has been documented well as a help to dancers. Had we watch Madonna do some, I assure you she would have looked better. Sadly, her chiseled, rail thin bod failed her when it came to actually dancing.
There's so much that happens in a dance class that you will never get in a yoga or pilates class, like cueing off other people, sensing yourself moving through space, connecting one dance movement to another, responding to the music and more. A dance class is more than a set of exercises designed to warm you up, strengthen a set of muscles, or make you able to put your leg by your ear. All of that happens, but there's way more.
Training and rehearsal each serve different purposes. It's in the dance class where the artist takes shape. Rehearsals are for learning and honing choreography, while class allows the time and focus to work on one's artistry. It's a holy time of self-absorption, where one's craft becomes whole. Class allow the artist to be free of the demands of the stage and the public eye, to work out trouble spots, to fail, to try something daring and to wallow in all the details it takes to make a complete artist.
Dancing is making poetry out of the air. One learns how to do that in class.
Madonna in her better dance days: