Met with a moment of pause, Ballet West soloist Emily Neale decided to take a step away from company life and uncover something new. Settling into Chicago, she joined Training Ground, our newest program for avid dancers who want a rigorous yet consolidated dance curriculum. For three months, Emily fired up her laptop and immersed herself in the virtual classes, exploring her space, her spine, and herself. Below she shares her experience:
Why did you decide to join Training Ground? What were you hoping to gain from the online program?
Contemporary dance is something I’ve been keen to learn more about, and for a little while (in tandem with the pandemic) I felt kind of lost in terms of direction. I felt like I was aimlessly floating, taking unfamiliar classes online by myself, and I had greatly missed the feeling of being a student among other students. Without some sort of structure, it can be hard for me to get into a good rhythm of motivation, especially staring at a screen and being away from a studio setting. A very close friend of mine trained at LINES a few years ago, and I remember seeing her dancing flourish through the Training Program. When I saw the online Training Ground was an option, without a question I thought, why not give it a shot! Despite the odd nature of learning through Zoom, this program has been incredibly nourishing and has absolutely evolved the paradigm of what I thought movement could be.
Was LINES’ approach to ballet different from what you have experienced in the past?
Yes and no. LINES’ approach to ballet has been familiar in the more scientific sense of structure, emphasis of anatomic symmetry, and honing in on fundamentals like conditioning a strong pelvic foundation, but the essence of delivery of knowledge has been a wonderfully refreshing experience.
The teachers I’ve gotten to learn from through LINES are all very masterful yet down to earth, and give off an approachable energy as if they’re still students themselves.
They lead the classes while bringing an awareness to the validity of our own personal experience ~ this isn’t always the case in a lot of training environments, due to passed-down beliefs/behaviors that aren’t necessarily dynamic or sustainable. Ballet, at this point in time, can be quite a distorted and cognitively dissonant art form, but LINES’ approach to ballet has felt surprisingly organic, mindful, inclusive, and uplifting.
What was one of the greatest highlights of the program?
Having live accompaniment in some of the classes has been a big highlight for me. I’ve become a big fan of Lucy [Hudson]. The way she plays makes me forget I’m in a room by myself with a glowing screen, it’s honestly a beautiful feeling. I’ll usually bump up my speaker extra loud for her.
Were there words of wisdom that stuck with you?
In one of Anne-René’s yoga classes she referenced a Tolstoy quote, “All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.” I really appreciated her emphasizing the act of understanding as an act of love, it really stuck with me. I think we all can re-evaluate our definitions of love, to be careful so that it’s not just a romanticized or fantastical projection, but perhaps something as considerate as listening, observing, being present… you know?
What growth have you noticed in yourself over the past three months? Artistically? Personally?
I don’t know where to begin! Three months ago, I felt like a cloistered caterpillar in a cocoon, and now I feel as if I’m out on a leaf, my wings are drying with the wind, and I’m looking out into the world with my new butterfly eyes for some good flowers and trees to flutter to. Artistically, I find myself being much more aware of the opposing hemispheres within my body, the relationship with the negative space that surrounds me, and my relationship with gravity. It’s like having some great new tools in the pocket that I feel have opened up my capacity for movement. On a more personal level, I find myself having more patience and acceptance with whatever it is I may be going through. I’m a work in progress, but I now aspire to surrender to what “is” and make intentional choices from that state of being, rather than holding on to resistance or having attachment to other outcomes that I have no control over.
Why do you dance? Is the reason you move today different than it was a year prior?
I dance because I feel art is the greatest thing I can give to in this life, and I just happen to be fortunate enough to have my body as a capable instrument. Very impactive expressions of dance can be a glorious amalgamation of body, music, visual art, and soul that can resonate with almost any kind of person on any timeline, and I love that primal, connective quality of the art form. A year ago, I felt myself having been bogged down by the darker, more psychological detriments of the industry and all the vanities that can come with “dance” today in a patriarchal, capitalistic America, and I’m grateful to be in a gentler headspace now. I move today to connect with my inner-child and to practice giving her love, and to share that love how I can with whoever may cross my path.
How has the pandemic impacted your professional career?
It’s taken me on a completely different path! I was privileged enough to dance with a professional ballet company for 5 seasons and had been promoted to the rank of Soloist shortly before the pandemic really took hold of everything… The veil of a fragile concept of reality was lifted, and I had what seemed like an eternity to sit with myself and reflect.
The pandemic served as a catalyst in deciding I wanted to pursue a professional path that wouldn’t just be valued by my time on stage/in the studio or through a fixed title, but more so reflected by how I live my life entirely ~ how I connect with strangers, how I affect people I love, how I spend my time, to who and what I dedicate my energy to… to not only “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk” in regards to what I believe could be possible in life.
I ended up taking a leave of absence from the company to take some time for myself, thankfully I had a director who was very kind and receptive to what I was feeling, and I relocated to Chicago with a close gal pal. Since being here, I’ve been trying my hand at a number of odd jobs and hobbies, and have gotten to peek into all walks of life/other realities along with taking the online Training Ground classes. This pandemic has almost rebirthed my professional career as a dancer and artist, although I’m not really sure what’s to come next.
Have your dreams shifted over the past year? What do you want to see in the world? In yourself?
My dream is to forge my own unique and intentional path through a lifetime of collaborative and artistic projects~ I would love to be some dreaming kid’s inspiration 100 years from now or something like that. I also would love to lend a hand in the rise of consciousness within the arts and society at large.
I believe that only in looking inward will humanity start to realize the powerful changes that happen through self-love and a sense of being as present with yourself as possible. I hope to see a Love renaissance in the world! Like a phoenix rising from the ashes!
The effects of climate change, a direct result of a collective unconsciousness and lack of love in humanity, is an issue that will affect our entire planet, and I hope for there to be a positive shift in society’s modus operandi before too much damage is done. I’m inspired to practice that loving awareness within myself as I continue on as a little human on this planet, and hope that in doing so, it’ll aid in some sort of snowball effect that’s currently beyond my comprehension.
Who would you recommend Training Ground to?
I recommend this program to anyone who feels they are in a place in their life where they are open to receive and give their focused energy to the art form of dance. I’ve learned more from this program, the teachers, and watching the other students in the last 3 months than I have in years, if that’s saying anything. 🙂
Interview by Erin McKay
ABOUT TRAINING GROUND
Our newest pre‐professional pathway is perfect for the avid dancer who wants a more serious regimen but may have financial or time constraints. Divided into a 3-4 month season, Training Ground is accessible for international and domestic students alike. Our Fall 2021 season will be held online. To learn more, visit: linesballet.org/training-ground
Photography: Jason Lam