An exclusive interview from the archives:
Alonzo, what are the five (or any number) personal qualities you would most hope to find, instill or unlock in a young student of dance hoping for a professional career today?
Before a professional career, I would want to develop the depth and voice of the artist. To embolden the vision that they see of themselves and how they want to move and be in the world. To awaken a strong point of view, and a belief in themselves that stands undisturbed against criticism and contrary views. And to keep their tuning fork continually listening for larger ideas and deeper thoughts. The point of training is the development of mental equilibrium and character. Skill and acumen are signposts in the journey. Skill has to be tempered with discrimination and humility.
There is a radiance that emanates from human beings who have given themselves to a life of service. Art is service. Seven qualities that are essential in the blossoming of any individual are fearlessness, will power, humility, perseverance, patience, love and enthusiasm. Anyone aspiring to change will be met with obstacle and involved in battle. The reason for law and discipline is to assist us in those battles and enable freedom. To watch freedom in movement is an inspiration.
Would you care to address how these qualities would translate into another vocation, if for any reason the individual did not finally pursue a dance career?
For success in any vocation there has to be a high degree of concentration. Once the mind can be steadily focused with laser like concentration, a person can determine where their personal interest lies, and will find success wherever they dig. Our bodies are a microcosm of the enormous macrocosm that we exist in. Everything that exists in that macrocosm is also hidden within us.
Training in dance is a door into acquiring knowledge about how things work.
Understanding the workings of the little picture exposes the workings of the big picture. A depth of concentration coupled with devotion will inevitably bring wisdom, (clear sight) which can be applied to any pursuit.
Would you be comfortable assuring parents that the time students invest studying in an excellent dance training program is never wasted, no matter what career path they might choose later on?
Concentration cannot be wasted, nor anything given not returned. An output of energy returns to its source. We live in a system of cause and effect. Whatever action or thought we initiate there is a scientific boomerang of return. Total dedication in one field is a key to understanding other fields. The process of problem-solving and inquiry produces bright minds. When the mind is sharpened through dance training, its sharpness remains intact when applied to other forms of study. In dance training, you govern and balance your physical, mental, and spiritual universe. You are presiding over a sometimes rebellious triumvirate. Self-mastery is not an easy feat. Great dance training is producing smart thinking, deep feeling people.
Fierce concentration brings light to the mind, which brings clarity and the ability to see. To a degree it’s more important how you study, than what you study. Any applied concentration brightens minds. One of the wonderful benefits of art study is that you develop intuition. Intuition is that knowing which doesn’t rely on inference and doesn’t need validation. It just knows. What parent wouldn’t want that for their child?
What you are saying points to a sense of unity among outwardly different human pursuits.
Unity is the underlying secret that diversity dimly conceals.
The technical demands of professional repertoire seem to become more challenging with each passing season, as choreographers take our art forward. How do you feel about the skills that must be mastered today, as contrasted with what was considered a complete preparation ten, twenty or more years ago?
I don’t think art can be taken forward. It’s either art or it isn’t. There can be no better now than it was before. It’s blind and presumptuous of us to think that we have achieved more than what was possible in the past. We are just beginning the slow ascent to the sublime knowledge that higher civilizations carelessly played in.
Do you find shared traits among the most gifted and potentially successful dancers on the edge of their careers? What can developing dancers do about aspiring to gain these traits?
I’m always surprised when I meet dancers who don’t think of themselves as artists. I’ve seen many dancers trained to be the objet d’art, wistfully posing, as opposed to thinking of themselves as sculptors and creators manipulating space and time.
I’ve never met a great dancer who wasn’t brilliant. I think it’s important for people to have their own definition of success, and to be thinking about what they can bring to the art, as opposed to what they will get out of it.
Do you find hindrances in the approach of young dancers to their own training?
Today I notice a large degree of doubt and fear in training. And the idea of the body as the ‘self’ rather than an instrument of expression for the larger Self. There is so much stress on right and wrong that dancers are straitjacketed in stiffness. Too often there is an idolatry toward the approximation of a physical ideal that has caused a dangerous imbalance. It focuses the artist largely on the external, and art making is internal.
It is the art that is within the artist that produces art.
Are there points that you would like to express to successful and experienced professional teachers and coaches?
Teachers are givers, and it’s essential that they yearly re-fuel and inspire themselves.
And what would you like to say to those just starting out on teaching careers?
The teacher is a servant. The more you develop yourself, the more you have to share. Watch the heart and mind of your students and supply what is needed. Always keep the goal in front of their eyes and never underestimate anyone. Because they are human beings, regardless of where they are in development, they are each capable of unimaginable possibility.
In a peculiar sense greatness has nothing to do with us. It lies within waiting for us to discover it. It’s like a powerful mythical horse that’s just there, and won’t do anything until we recognize it and get on it. Sometimes we may feel its breath on our neck, hear its pounding feet trying to awaken us to its presence, we wonder, and then go back to sleep. The teacher is there to keep us awake and help us recognize that the horse is indeed there, waiting to serve you, so that you can believe, mount and fly.