What can a belly dancer learn from ballet? Swan Lake at the American Ballet Theater

Swan Lake at ABT

Swan Lake at ABT

I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend to the dress rehearsal of ABT’s production of Swan Lake earlier this week. It had been a (long) while since I’d been to a ballet, and I was excited to see it in one of my favorite theater spaces at Lincoln Center.

I’ve been thinking a lot about theatricality in dance and expressing emotion after my first competition experience, and in anticipation of next week’s Theatrical Bellydance Conference, and these thoughts surfaced while watching Swan Lake. While it’s certainly not a novelty to apply lessons from ballet to belly dance (see Mahmoud Reda), I definitely came out of the show with a few relevant ideas to apply to my own dance.


One of the great parts of seeing a dress rehearsal is that sometimes the same part will be danced by different artists in order to allow them all to rehearse. For the audience, that means a case study in evaluating the nuances. While the experience of watching ballet is usually done from afar, in an audience chair (and not up close at the kebab house, like in belly dance), facial emotion still reads across all those yards. That’s not to say that ballet is fully acted, but that those little extra things–like a certain expression or hand movement–can make a world of difference. Gillian Murphy brought a certain spunk to Odette (the white swan) through her coy looks and sharp accents, while Paloma Hererra’s languishing, cool extensions brought vulnerability to the role.

Something that was especially evident in Hererra’s performance–as well as in some of the better members of the corps–was the emotive power of the arms. Frankly, I could have watched just the arms and been happy with the performance! Arm and hands have been two of my key focuses for the last two years, and watching the ballerinas only reinforced my own desire to use arm placement and movement to enhance the musicality of a choreography, and to interpret the music and mood while not feeling confined to acting on each note or phrase. I’m really looking forward to improving my ability to really inhabit the music, ballerina-style!


One thought on “What can a belly dancer learn from ballet? Swan Lake at the American Ballet Theater

  1. Paloma Hererra is really something to see isn’t she? Nice observations here…I have learned things from watching belly dance as well. 🙂 Great blog!

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