I ... "do" ... art by Melissa AdendorffI ... "do" ... art. I don't paint, or sculpt with tangible media, but I move in such a way that I sculpt a story with my body and paint and draw movement combinations in the air, in three dimensions for a very short time, and hope that they become imprinted on the eyes of those who watch.
I am art. I have always been …
And while my embodied art is potentially a bit outside of the general palatable and consumer-directed mainstream … I am still and have mostly been artistry embodied.
My current incarnation of artistry embodied is that of a dancer ... an artform I deserted a lifetime ago, and returned to because I just wasn't myself without its particular form of expression.
My permanent incarnation of artistry embodied is the art in my skin, as I am a walking canvas to some phenomenal tattoo artists ... which upsets the Royal Academy of Dance instructors and examiners to no end ... and yet, I am a dancer.
My previous incarnation of artistry embodied martial arts, where, while there is definite competitive satisfaction in a knockout or a submission, the magic happens in the performance of forms, open-hand, unbladed weapons, and bladed weapons … where you dance with “deadly” intention. That is where I shone.
Now when I think about embodied artistry in all the forms which impact my life, a vital aspect which comes to mind is anatomy … and for the artist who draws or sculpts or paints, this matters too … and for the artist who writes, there is an anatomy to a text … so it makes sense in most, if not all artistic contexts.
Now, originally when I was presented with the opportunity to partake in this collaboration, I wanted to use the letter “A” to talk about the artistic journey of learning a classical variation named Aegina’s Monologue from the ballet Spartacus, but in the meantime something more meaningful has happened for me in the ballet world, and that’s why I shifted my focus onto “anatomy”.
An incredible dancer, named Katherine Morgan, has been openly discussing the ballet body and the impact of traditional perceptions of bodily ideals on mental health. And this resonated deeply, because I do not have the ideal ballet anatomy, and yet, I identify as a dancer. I do not have the ideal balletic skin, considering my modifications, and yet, I identify as a dancer. I have directed my current academic research into this phenomenon as well, and this is another platform to bring attention to the fact that every body can be an embodiment of the artistry of dance.
Now, I had ambitions of potentially dancing professionally once, but then my anatomy worked against me, alongside a good dose of metal health issues, and my anatomy was pointed out to be unsuited to classical ballet … when I was a teenager … and that did some damage. I was a thoroughly competent and proficient dancer; I scored well in exams, my ARTISTRY was complimented, but my anatomy was shamed. When I moved into martial arts, my anatomy was praised because I developed a lot of functional muscle, and I could move with it. I maintained my flow. My highest martial arts achievements came from executing dance-like forms, with all of my body. But, when I hit my 30s, I missed ballet, and I regretted stopping, and I regretted what I had lost … so I promptly put on a leotard, and stepped into a space of shame.
Injuries, depression, and bad mental health habits had left me overweight (yet fit enough to perform in martial arts and climbing), but the ballet aesthetic was very far away from me. And I made the decision to alter my anatomy as best I could to be the best dancer I could be.
Now, the aesthetics of my anatomy irked me enough to question my decision to start this journey, but the functionality of my anatomy gave me the determination to be better for me, and the aesthetics were a perk … let me explain. After a nasty knee injury that required surgery in 2018, I knew that I had to make a lifestyle adjustment to work with my anatomy. I needed to work on what would work for my knee … and that meant to lose weight. The PRIVILEGE that I had in this decision was that I could choose it for my own wellbeing and acknowledge my own agency in that decision. The locus of control was within me.
In the ballet world, people are told to lose more weight than might be healthy, otherwise they lose lead roles or are cut from companies … and that is devastating in terms of overall health and wellbeing. This external judgement and punishment of anatomical traits might make sense in a company with a very specific aesthetic, such as the Balanchine aesthetic, where ALL measurements were prescribed, but not everyone experiencing this phenomenon is a professional dancer. Pre-professionals, vocational, and recreational dancers are faced with this, and that is problematic due to the very nature of the dancer’s character, where perfectionism and a need for control are close to the surface … and they can play out negative in terms of constructing and deconstructing anatomy.
Research supports this, as there have been qualitative studies which unanimously presented findings indicating negative personality traits including perfectionism, high levels of psychological stress, being over-achievers, competitive, and having a need for control being exacerbated by pressures of aesthetics, leading to disordered eating and overtraining (Hamilton, Hamilton, Meltzer, Marshall, and Molnar, 1989; Petrides, Niven, and Moukounti, 2006; Zoletić and Duraković-Belko, 2009).
The point of all of this is that anatomy should never restrict artistry. Every body can be taught to tendu. Anatomy is incidental, if one is healthy, and happy, and embracing whichever art form speaks to the soul … I might not be a teeny tiny prima ballerina, but I am stepping into my own artistry by presenting a mature body, a string body, preforming a mature and strong piece of classical repertoire. I step into the studio and I have faith that my anatomy will carry through a day of dancing.
Do I look at the teeny tiny prima ballerina and compare myself? Of course. But I also make a conscious effort to claim my victories. I can claim my strength and my recovery (from the knee injury, among other things), and I can claim the grace with which I move all of myself.
And even though my anatomy is drastically different today than it was two years ago, I still think that the face in the first picture draws my eye, and I still think that the second picture conveys incredible emotion. I did not lose my inner artist by losing weight.
And that is the message that Katherine Morgan is sharing as well … your body does not determine how well you portray a story when you dance. Your anatomy might determine turnout, but turnout is not everything. Artistry makes for magic in ballet, and anatomy is secondary to the art.
The message here is that embodied art is possible for every body … anatomy works with artistry to make magic. And that is what artists of all forms do.
Hamilton, L.H., Hamilton, W.G., Meltzer, J.D., Marshall, P., & Molnar, M. (1898). Personality, stress, and injuries in professional ballet dancers. American journal of sports medicine, 17(2), 263-267.
Petrides, K.V., Niven, L., & Moukounti, T. (2006). The trait emotional intelligence of ballet dancers and musicians. Psicothema, 18, 101-107.
Zoletić, E., & Duraković-Belko, E. (2009). Body image distortion, perfectionism and eating disorder symptoms in risk group of female ballet dancers and models in control group of female students. Psychiatria Danubina, 21(3), 302-309.