While watching the world premier of Amy Seiwert's "Imagery: SKETCH 4" at the ODC Dance Theater, I was captivated by a smile.
The program was designed to highlight two independently choreographed interpretations of the same music with the same group of dancers. In each piece, the gorgeous fitness of the dancers, the beauty of the expressions, and the stunning movements wowed the audience. Yet, rather than focus on the differences in the creative interpretations of the music, I was most moved by one dancer's small but beautiful smile. It radiated warmth and made me smile in response as her head turned toward me with each spin. What is it about a smile that can determine the greatness of a performance?
The smile reflects and touches the hearts and spirits of both the performer and the observer. The smile reflects the health of both.
I have provided medical support for dancers since the 1980s. Back then, the female dancers were rail-thin, smoked cigarettes between rehearsals and had no nutrition guidance. They were revered for their grace, beauty and ethereal qualities. The male dancers could leap to great heights with elongated — rather than muscular — bodies. The strict style of Balanchine choreography ruled the ballet universe. Ballet was not that healthy and as far as I could see, not that much fun.
Although dancers were paid as artists, they were asked to perform as athletes. Consequently injuries to their frail bodies were common. Gradually, the ballet masters and choreographers recognized this mismatch and permitted those of us in sports medicine to bring a focus on cardiovascular and muscular fitness training, nutrition and healthy lifestyles to the ballet world. Today's dancers are both strong and lithe. They are extremely fit and very much aware of their health. It is a joy to watch them perform and they radiate a degree of happiness not commonly associated with ballet.
Pushed to new extremes, their injuries reflect the athletic risks they take, with ACL tears, ankle ligament ruptures, back muscle strains, and meniscus and cartilage damage. Yet their response to injuries is now much more consistent with other professional athletes who benefit from early repair of cartilage and ligament injuries and immediate high-quality manual physical therapy. The result is prolonged careers and healthy retirements.
A dancer's performance is up close and personal. It's not only their seemingly effortless technique that determines their success but also their attitude. Their expression reflects this. Those dancers who grace their performances, their injuries and their recoveries with the smile that mirrors their joy, do the best.
Amongst all the fit and beautiful dancers in the Imagery performance, the smile of one warmed my heart the most and left me with the lasting satisfaction of watching phenomenal artists perform with the healthy creative athleticism that defines our era.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco. He pioneers advanced orthopedic surgical and rehabilitation techniques to repair, regenerate and replace damaged cartilage and ligaments. For more info, visit www.stoneclinic.com.