Q and A With Gabrielle Menezes, Creator of Dancers, A Short Film About Adult Ballerinas

Dancers from Gabrielle Menezes on Vimeo.

Gabrielle Menezes created a short film, Dancers, because she had recently started taking classes herself and was fascinated by the other dancers in her class. Learn more about her and the film below!

What is your background in film and media?

I was a TV journalist for many years, and the West Africa reporter for Al Jazeera. I was based in Abidjan and covered conflicts, and really felt burnt out over four years. I really wanted to do documentary films that were more creative and poetic so I started making films like these in-between freelancing for the United Nations. My current work is broad, but includes films that can really make a difference to people’s lives. I’ve made training videos to teach NGO’s how to deal with child trafficking or films that teach nomadic pastoralists how to grow drought resistant crops. My other work is creative documentary, that walks along the border of fact and fiction. I’ve always felt that if we are made of memory as well as imagination, a news documentary can’t capture the full human experience.

What made you want to make a film about adult ballet dancers?

I recently started beginner ballet classes, and during the class became fascinated by the other dancers. They ranged from older ladies, to girls in their perfect pink tights and satin ribbons on their shoes, and even included the unexpected, shy man. I thought that the dancers in the class were beautiful even without being perfect or close to that. I found myself thinking about a lecture that the script writer Charlie Kauffman gave where he says: “I’ve never delivered a speech before, which is why I decided to do this tonight. I wanted to do something that I don’t know how to do, and offer you the experience of watching someone fumble. Because I think maybe that’s what art should offer, an opportunity to recognize our common humanity and vulnerability.” I wanted to capture something of this experience on film.

What school did you choose to film, and why?

It was harder than I thought to find a class where people were OK with being filmed. I had started taking classes at Danceworks in London, and so asked a couple of ballet teachers there if they were willing to participate. Franziska welcomed the opportunity. She was so patient with making the students feel comfortable with the idea of filming, and without her help the film really wouldn’t have taken place.

What made you decide to go to ballet classes the film or something else?
I’ve always loved dance and as a young girl did ballet, and ballroom, but then gave it up as a teenager. After going to a ballet performance at the Royal Opera House of Raven Girl which was choreographed by Wayne McGregor, I was inspired to dance. I wanted to dance ballet. I had given up ballet at 13, because I felt that I wasn’t good enough, that I was not graceful or perfect. But now the desire to dance was stronger in me than the desire to be perfect. Besides, my eight year old self squealed with delight when I bought ballet shoes.

What advice would you give to those just starting or looking to start ballet?

To be patient with yourself, and not to expect to dance ‘Swan Lake’ after the first class. I always remind myself that I’m not a professional ballet dancer, and have no reason to look like one. What is most important is to enjoy ballet and the feeling of grace that it gives you.

Why are dancers so clumsy?

whyaredancers

What comes up when you do a search for “why are dancers so…”

Dancers are supposed to be graceful, so why is it that so many of us seem to be so clumsy when out of the studio? Not that I’m exactly uber graceful when in the studio either–but I’m certainly a klutz outside the studio. I’ve been resting the past few days after slightly twisting my ankle while carrying stuff to my apartment on Sunday.

There are lots of different theories on why dancers are more clumsy:

The Dance Project lists a few reasons: dancers lack ankle dorisflexion (flexing their feet) and dancers tend to develop  thoracic outlet syndrome.

There’s also a popular Dance.net forum topic dedicated to different theories. My favorite is this joke:

“If a 2X4 is laying on the floor of a stage an actor will trip on it, a stagehand will step over it, and a dancer will trip on the spot where the board was long after it has been put away.”

Are you clumsy outside of dance? What do you “blame” it on?

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