It's important to get well-rounded right off the bat. A lot of experienced dancers can get pigeonholed into one thing. I've been hired for a lot of different gigs simply because I can do a lot of different things with different levels of dancers. And it's sad to me that some dancers don't do more.
So many dancers feel that what they look like is more important than who they are. This is a real danger for dancers who focus for years on appearances and think of themselves as merely a body. The choreographer can't work with them in the realm of ideas. It's a huge problem if they haven't been connecting internally. If they've decided that what's inside is of little value, they can only try to approximate some kind of look.
I will say a lot of dancers do such beautiful things for their body and then they smoke a cigarette. I've never been a smoker, but I realized after taking yoga . . . in ballet you're not encouraged to do a lot of breathing. I think in a weird way, a lot of dancers find relief in actually breathing.
I feel like people used to leave their homes and go to their local theatre, and they used to watch ballet dancers and musical theatre performers and tap dancers and orchestras and dog acts. You had to leave your home, be in the presence of other people, know how to behave, and enjoy the human being whose beating heart was in front of you.
So many people report to be contemporary dancers, and they're not. They are sort of jazz dancers that feel like they're throwing a bit of classical in there. I mean, a true contemporary dancer has got ballet as their base and classical ballet, and that is their base. And then they choose to extemporize on that and go into a contemporary world.
Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, once told me that when a brass band plays at a small club back up in one of the neighborhoods, it's as if the audience-dancing, singing to the refrains, laughing-is part of the band. They are two parts of the same thing. The dancers interpret, or it might be better to say literally embody, the sounds of the band, answering the instruments. Since everyone is listening to different parts of the music-she to the trumpet melody, he to the bass drum, she to the trombone-the audience is a working model in three dimensions of the music, a synesthesic transformation of materials. And of course the band is also watching the dancers, and getting ideas from the dancers' gestures. The relationship between band and audience is in that sense like the relationship between two lovers making love, where cause and effect becomes very hard to see, even impossible to call by its right name; one is literally getting down, as in particle physics, to some root stratum where one is freed from the lockstop of time itself, where time might even run backward, or sideways, and something eternal and transcendent is accessed.
At bed-time I went into my room and put out the light. I didn't get undressed. I lay on my bed and looked out of the window at the stars. I read in a book that the stars can take you anywhere. I've never wanted to be an astronaut because of the helmets. If I were up there on the moon, or by the Milky Way, I'd want to feel the stars round my head. I'd want them in my hair the way they are in paintings of the gods. I'd want my whole body to feel the space, the empty space and points of light. That's how dancers must feel, dancers and acrobats, just for a second, that freedom.