Show Ponies and Work Horses

Audrey Hepburn, J’adore!

Hello, face of perfection speaking…

I think she is just splendid at the one character she plays (One-trick pony) and I fully enjoy it in all the renditions (Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sabrina, Wait Until Dark, etc). However, she busts my buttons in ‘My Fair Lady’, if only for the reason that I am jealous of her beauty and therefore hate her she doesn’t do her own singing. It’s really the workhorse of stage and film, Julie Andrews, who also I believe did the singing for Ms. “I feel Pretty” Natalie Wood in the film adaptation of West Side Story. Something tells me those two ‘leading ladies’ were mostly cast in those SINGING ROLES for their looks. Fair Ladies Indeed.

I got a letter a few months back from a dear friend of mine who made the comparison between being a show pony or a work horse, a distinction that has stuck with me since reading her note.  I think something that I truly love about dancers is that you have to be both.

I admit to being more the ‘show pony’ type myself- I could just slap a big smile on messy technique and call it a day!But I’ve been thinking of this clarification in regards to how I’m working in class. I occasionally catch glimpses of myself in the mirror and think, ‘good gracious, I’m turned in!‘ My lines are not the picture of perfection that I ultimately want, but I’m working from a place of honesty within my extension and turn-out- not pushing for ‘the look’ as much as the feeling of activating the correct muscles, not gripping, and being more stable in positions and transitions, and I think I’m dancing better for it. 

Because dance is so visual, it’s hard to let go of immediately desiring a specific look- whether that be the shape of the body itself or the shapes and lines created from dancing. Too bad that it takes so much work to achieve that kind of perfection-on-display. For whatever reason, I find the challenge a worthy, humbling, and beautiful endeavor, even in the most unglamorous moments -(Grand Rond De Jambe at the barre anyone? *Translation- large circle of the leg/ My LEAST favorite thing in the ballet vocabulary) Yet even in those rare moments when I transform into  a ‘work- horse’, I’m always motivated by the inner show-pony.

Look at all the pretty Ponies! from the ‘Milk from a Thistle’ line

Have you ever seen a horse strapped to a plow, dragging behind it some heavy equipment  in preparation to plant some form of crop and thought, ‘that POOR BEAST!’ It must be exhausted! What a rotten life! ? Did you ever wonder if the horse enjoys, nay, even feels LUCKY during the process? I wonder if the desire to create beauty, to serve a purpose, to gain in strength and stamina is specific to humans alone. I want to know if these horses are imagining what glorious places or in front of what happy audiences the fruits of their labors will appear. That’s the kind of stuff I’m thinking about when I’m sweating away in class. Of course, I’m also thinking of this better future version of me showered in glowing lights and sumptuous costumes and watchful eyes and applause while I’m plowing away at this thing called dance and life.  What can I say? Show Pony through and through.

All Work And No Show makes Jess a Dull Pony. Good thing there’s very little chance of that happening.

print by artist Katja Ollendorf

3 thoughts on “Show Ponies and Work Horses

  1. Jess – I love your blogs! But I wanted to let you know that it was Marni Nixon who did the singing for both Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady” and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story.” (What can I say – I’m a film geek!) Keep your entertaining blogs coming! Love, your Aunt Wendy

  2. Key word would be ‘entertaining’ (hopefully) and not educational on this one. Don’t I feel like an idiot! That’s what I call, ‘too lazy to google’. Told you I wasn’t a workhorse 🙂

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