YES, WE BOW AND CURTSEY!

1 Aug

A few Saturday’s ago I took a great class at New Jersey Ballet taught by prima ballerina and former ABT principal Eleanor D’Antuono. She had such a lovely teaching style, artistic, with great pacing, good corrections, difficult but still manageable.

On my way out of the building I saw Eleanor coming down the hallway – from a distance I blew her a kiss, bowed and curtseyed. When I got home I ran into my husband who asked if I had a good class. “Yes,” I said, “it was great! I saw my teacher on the way out and curtseyed to her for a second time and even blew her a kiss, the class was so good!

“Curtseyed?” my husband answered in amusement. “Are you serious?”

“Of course I curtseyed,” I said, explaining at the end of class we do a “révérence” where we give the teacher a round of applause and then bow and curtsey to the teacher and pianist.  His response was to laugh out loud and say, “Gee, I ought to applaud and curtsey after my spin class!”

Lance Westergard leads "révérence" at Tudor Centennial Workshop at Juilliard. Photo: Cliff Jernigan

It was at that moment I realized to a ballet outsider this behavior might seem odd.  I’d never really thought about it – is a curtsey, bow and round of applause at the end of ballet class (something I’ve done my whole life) really all that strange? And how did the tradition of “révérence” begin?

My online research yielded many explanations of the ballet term “révérence” but very little information on its origin. A blog called balletdancing4u said, “your ballet dancing class isn’t over until you do your révérence. A révérence is always done at the conclusion of your class and is an old ballet tradition that acknowledges your teacher and pianist, as well as showing courtesy, elegance and respect.” It went on to say, “today you thank your teacher for helping you and the pianist for the beautiful music, but one day you may thank your partner for dancing with you, or the conductor for the beautiful music and your audience for their applause.” I kind of liked that.

I also liked the simple, straightforward explanation of révérence on About.com, which defined révérence as simply, “a bow or curtsey – the last exercises of a ballet class in which the ballet dancers pay respect to and acknowledge the teacher and pianist. Révérence usually includes bows, curtsies, and ports de bras, and is a way of celebrating ballet’s traditions of elegance and respect.”

"How to do Révérence " - eHow.com

But what where did it all begin?

In her new book Apollo’s Angels, historian Jennifer Homans traces ballet’s evolution over the past 400 years and how the art of ballet evolved from its start in the Renaissance court cultures of Italy and France. In a recent interview with National Public Radio Homans said, “It was a dance (ballet) that was done by courtiers and kings and princes at court in social situations. It was not a theatrical art set off from social life…. the ways that people moved had to do with the ways that they moved in their lives. Like for example, if you have a révérence, a bow, which is still performed today in classical ballet, both in dances but also at the end of most dance classes, that’s the same bow that you would see in a painting of courtiers leaving their king.  And how far they bow, how deep they go was a sign of respect for the monarch or for the person they were addressing.”

But I thought the best explanation of  révérence was in a Dance Magazine article back in December, 2009. The article, by Kristin Lewis, said, “The origin of révérence dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, when bows and curtseys were choreographed into social dances. ‘Couples turned toward each other and bowed as a gesture of respect,’ says Elizabeth Aldrich, curator of dance at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. If one couple performed a dance for someone of rank or nobility, their bows and curtseys were given as gestures of respect to this higher authority. Today, the higher authority is the teacher.’”

After class that Saturday I did wish to honor and respect my teacher – to say thank you for a class filled with artful challenges and gentle corrections. I also wanted to thank our wonderful pianist, Marie Raffa, whose daughter is a ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre. Marie has a way of enriching the music so that it “tells me what to do” – the music she chooses helps me find the steps, figure out the choreography – her music choice is always a perfect fit to the combination.

Marie, who has trouble walking, once told me she takes great joy in watching us dance and move for her. Here’s an extra bow and curtsey for you, Marie, with utmost reverence and applause!

View stunning photographs of bows and curtsies at photographer Gene Schiavone’s website page: “ABT ‘Bows and Curtain Calls’.”

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2 Responses to “YES, WE BOW AND CURTSEY!”

  1. 4dancers August 13, 2011 at 12:43 PM #

    First of all, thanks for letting me know about this lovely blog by leaving your comment at 4dancers.

    Second, I love this post. The révérence is a wonderful tradition that I have always enjoyed–and you’re right–I think people outside ballet think it is strange! I still use the révérence from my first ballet teacher in class today…30 years later.

    I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

    • AdriaBalletBeat August 13, 2011 at 12:54 PM #

      Thank you so much for your nice feedback! Just added a new post – thanks for reading!

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