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There is something great about witnessing the moments before something spectacular takes place.

picture from: temptationsandambitions.blogspot.com

It can be an event of nature, such as an anticipated storm, or maybe its ending when the rays of light burst through the clouds. The main thing that I am referring here is the feeling of witnessing a fundamental change in something, a feeling of seeing something to get to another level or form. I could go on about nature, carpentry or building sand castles, but for the sake of clarity of the argument, I will limit myself to people and performance.

I have a some sort of a crush to paintings of ballerinas putting on their shoes. I am so happy that I got to see paintings of Edgar Degas in Vienna a couple of years ago, because he has some marvellous paintings about ballerinas. Before getting to any talks of fetishism, I would like to point out that when a ballerina is tying on her pointe shoes, she is putting on her uniform and the most important work equipment at the same time. And in the act of dressing on those shoes, I feel that there is happening a change in attitude, a mindset  or “getting to the battle mode” in other words,  that becomes visible.

paintin by John Isaac

And when it comes to getting to the battle mode, or gearing up for work, not many professionals look more graceful than ballerinas. The tipping point seems so palpable and grand that it gets me every time. It is a moment, when a person, Julia, a mother, a student, a daughter, a lover, becomes a player of profession, a dancer. It is a moment of reflection and concentration. It may involve some specific people (maybe  in group sports, a coach and team members in the locker room), and usually some rituals. It may look very different between different persons, and especially between sports or professions, but the change of mindset is always visibly present.

sketch by Edgar Degas

Some may argue that it is the moment when individuals turn into machines or executors, a moment when they lose their identity and individuality. And I must admit, there are some fora where the negative side of this pops out more often than it should. But as Nurenberg trials concluded, a soldier is not and should not be a mindless tool but is more strongly bound by his morale than that of the orders of his superiors. And no one can argue, that ballerinas or athletes of any sort would hand in their individual expression and way of doing things, even though they are bound by their physical limits and the training they have received and rules that they should follow. I personally remember going through my dance routines when I put my dancing shoes on. When I dressed my soldier uniform and serviced my rifle, I went through the instructions how to aim and tried to calm myself in order to shoot better. Every time I put my suit on, I think of the persons I am putting it on for and feel grateful of sharing that moment soon to come with them.

 

I guess that what I am arguing here, is that firstly, sometimes it is more interesting to see what happens before the performance than the performance in itself.  Secondly, putting on your uniform makes you think through what is coming your way, but it does not take away your morale. This interest towards the back room is in my view apparent in the success of reality shows and the invasion of athletes private space in the modern television. Whether this is good or bad I cannot say. But one thing that is good is that people who concentrate to their future task tend to do it better. I feel fortunate to be able to spot out and to appreciate these moments of preparation in my surroundings, such as people getting ready to meetings, or maybe students who are studying for an exam in the library. I am not too thrilled about seeing women putting on make-up in busses though, because I feel that they are depriving themselves of the reflection when doing it outside of the usual place where the ritual takes or should take place.  I heard someone today say the same thing about watching people eat in public transport. These both things seem to skim down the value in the process (from feeling pretty to just getting pretty, or enjoying a meal just to swallowing fuel for body), leaving mechanics but taking away the reflection and self-appreciation.

If you feel like wanting to get a taste of what I mean, I suggest you watch Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her” (Hable Con Ella). It is a disturbing and a beautiful movie, of which it may be better not to know too much about beforehand, but there is a scene about a female bull fighter getting her costume on. She cannot dress it alone, and there is a great sense of preparing oneself to meet with the bull as she is putting her gear on. Almodovar clearly is getting my point, or other way around. 🙂

Still from the movie Hable con Ella.

ps. Come to think of it, while I was putting on any uniform, I actually concentrated on tying my boots on right, putting the right buttons to my white tie shirt, and the thoughts of the actions and people came afterwards. But I suppose the concentration to the process does not diminish the psychological importance of the excercice, and it still makes the action afterwards more meaningful.

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