In the Eyes of the Beholder: Dancers and Choreographers Talk about What They Find Beautiful

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More and more dancers are breaking stride with the conventions of beauty in our field--both in what's considered a beautiful dancing body and what's considered beautiful artistically. Dance Magazine interviewed nine forward-looking dancers and choreographers to get their insights. We asked them three questions:

What do you find beautiful onstage? How has this changed for you? Can you give an example of what or whom you find beautiful?

Christal Brown

Artistic director, INSPIRIT, a dance company

One of the main characteristics when I think of beauty is self-possession. In my mind, people who are self-possessed are automatically beautiful because they've honed a persona that is authentic. What comes across in performance is that understanding of what makes things work on a visceral level, and it kind of spurts out from there.

When I was coming up in the field, I loved to watch Gwen Welliver, who danced for many years with Doug Varone. I would call her the liquid metal transformer because she could turn from soft to steel in like 2.3 seconds. Choreographer Andrea Woods gave me my first job out of college; I learned from her about intention and understanding where the movement comes from. She can contort her body into what's not thought of as pretty positions and still be beautiful.

It's taken me a while to come up with my own idea of beauty. Coming from a small North Carolina town, being African American, having a physique that isn't necessarily the norm, beauty was something that I was striving to attain, not something I thought I already had. So I was always trying to fit the mold of something else. But when I became involved with companies like Chuck Davis, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Bill T. Jones, and Liz Lerman, where that kind of self-possession was more valuable than extension or physique, I started to understand that there was something of mine that was unique which other people didn't have.

Alexandra Belier

Artistic director, Alexandra

Beller/Dances; faculty, DNA Dance

What I find beautiful is authenticity, which is about emotional integrity and intense presence. I like when the space between things is magnified and electrified, between bodies or between moments in time. I find it beautiful when something onstage turns a mirror to me and reflects something out of my own mind or heart or life. When I was a teenager, the obvious, the clear emotionality is what appealed to me. I wanted catharsis. Now my emotional life is more subtle and complex.

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Downtown Dancer Jeanine Durning is so incredibly a reflection of life's awkwardness, strife, weird, beauty and unexpected pleasure. I feel the spontaneity of her decision-making, the potential for discovery in every moment.

Of course it's beautiful to watch the amazing virtuosity of a ballet dancer. But it doesn't touch me in the same way as Jeanine. For me the things that are the most beautiful are the most human. What ballet reflects back is perfection, which is not something that I really feel. What Jeanine reflects back is this life of being human and failing and succeeding and struggling, and that's what moves me.

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Garrett Ammon

Artistic director, Ballet Nouveau Colorado

When an audience sees somebody be very vulnerable and free onstage, it allows them to feel vulnerable too. And the fragility of our egos and our hearts, combined with the power of the body, is something I find beautiful.

I love to see people try new things. I can be sitting in the house watching a rehearsal or a performance, and suddenly I'll see something even in my own work that I've never seen before, simply because the dancers chose to explore that in a different way. Those new moments of beauty are incredibly exciting.

One thing that is important to me is the dancers' eyes--where they choose to put their focus, or how they see the space around them, or how they complete a moment with their eyes. …