The story of Julie Kent
Julie Kent was trending on my feed last week. I didn’t know who she was but I clicked on an article, interest piqued by the description that said the American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer was retiring after 29 years with the premier ballet company of the United States. Reading about how ballet has shaped her life in Vanity Fair, I got a glimpse into the commitment she has to her craft and instantly wished that I had been able to make her final performance to see her artistry first hand.
I rarely go to the ballet or dance performances of any kind. While I appreciated performances I saw as a teenager attending an arts high school, it was more out of amusement in seeing my classmates on stage rather than for the beauty of it.
What had been an abstraction with no real connection to me became a story that made me want to go see for myself the determination and passion that goes into this art.
Therefore, it is natural that I’ve never felt moved to support an institution like American Ballet Theatre, even at a level as basic as buying a ticket to a show. But once I heard this story and saw the face of one person in the company, it made me think that I must go. What had been an abstraction with no real connection to me became a story that made me want to go see for myself the determination and passion that goes into this art.
Under Armour, American Ballet Theatre and the story of Misty Copeland
I did go just once to see American Ballet Theatre, and that was because someone gave me a free ticket. At that performance, chatting with an older couple to my right, I learned that it was their first time at a professional ballet as well. They were in town from Wisconsin and had added the show to their usual mix of plays and concerts after seeing an Under Armour commercial featuring American Ballet Theatre dancer Misty Copeland. They spoke of what an awe-inspiring person she is and how thrilled they were to get to see her perform.
I thought to myself that the athletic clothing commercial must have been quite something if it got people to break from their usual entertainment patterns and buy orchestra seats at Lincoln Center to see the star of the ad. And it is. The ad effectively communicates the optimism and drive that inspires something essential in the American spirit and summarizes the triumphant life story and beauty of Misty Copeland, who really is nothing short of incredible, and was today announced as principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre.
What is your story?
Once I was there, I was surprised to see that American Ballet Theatre was not nearly as conservative as I had assumed; their repertoire was varied with both modern pieces and classical ballet. Not that I had done any research, but I had a fixed idea of what the ballet company stood for and thought that it had little to do with me. Much like the way many think of classical music, art museums or other “high art,” the ballet was an exclusive club in my mind and I was not invited.
It seems that a good way to engage new audiences is through effectively telling one story at a time.
It seems that a good way to break down such ideas and engage new audiences is through effectively telling one story at a time. The Under Armour ad is interesting because I do not need to know anything about ballet to be inspired by the human drive, artistry and power that is not necessarily thought about in relation to ballet. It connects the work of Misty Copeland to a more universal struggle with their craft that is shared by all great artists. This inspires the artist in me to work harder and strive higher.
All that from a one minute “story.”
Story is a kind of universal human language.
Story is a kind of universal human language and great stories are both highly specific and universal so that within them we see the specific story being told, but we also see ourselves. This is why it has such power. It can draw us in, and it can do so over seemingly great distances—for my orchestra seatmates from Wisconsin or for me from the discipline of music.
Putting an art form on a pedestal and holding inside conversations with other aficionados certainly has its place, but in the interest of appealing to those on the outside of the privileged inner circle, story is the key.