A CONVERSATION ABOUT WAYS OF TEACHING AND LEARNING WITH LOUISE
By Martina Ruhsam
corpus: How did you train before you joined "LaLaLa Human Steps"? What did your
dance education look like?
Louise Lecavalier: When I started to dance I was 13 years old and I was
just improvising, I didn't do classes. At the age of 15 I found a ballet school
in Montréal and I started to take some ballet classes. When the ballet school closed, I found a modern dance company in Montreal,
"Le Groupe Nouvelle Aire", where Édouard Lock and other now renowned
choreographers from Montréal were working, I started modern dance classes
there. Meanwhile another young modern company – whose directors were out of the
Mudra school of Béjart – offered me a grant to study with them for one summer.
After summer, when one dancer was leaving the company, they offered me my
first job as a dancer. I worked there only for one year; I left them to go back
to dance with Nouvelle Aire, and this was for two years. I finally left that
group, too, and was heading for New York when Édouard Lock who had started his
own group named “Lock Danseurs”, proposed me to work with him. So I started to
work with Édouard Lock but still went to NY to continue to study dance as I was
really just a beginner. I felt that I was lacking lots of education in dance … Offers to perform as a dancer arrived without me expecting them, I felt like I
needed to learn so much more.
corpus: In between the periods of creation?
Lecavalier: Yes, in between the periods of creation or
representations I was going to New York. New York is close to Montréal – an
hour flight, or eight hours by night bus. At that time I was going by bus. And I
was doing as many classes as I could. I mainly took classes in Modern Dance but
gradually shifted towards ballet. The type of ballet classes that I was taking
seemed more a kind of neutral technique to me. I was not learning it to be able
to dance exactly those steps on stage but more as a challenge for the body, and
for my capacity of learning new things. I was not interested in finding a
company to dance with in New York either. I really wanted to go back to
Montréal and to work with Édouard Lock. But as the company was not so busy
then, I preferred studying in New York, where I found inspiration from the
strong technique of the dancers that were attending the classes, the comments
from new teachers and the beautiful feeling of learning without having any
other pressure than the one I was putting on myself. I also loved Manhattan and
felt really free in this city in those years in the eighties.
corpus: Did you teach besides rehearsing and performing with "LaLaLa Human
Lecavalier: Yes, I was giving workshops in the places where we
went on tour. As soon as I started to dance I started to teach.
corpus: From the beginning on?
Lecavalier: From when I started to be connected with Contemporary
Dance. The first teacher that I had gave me one of her classes to teach. It was
a class for children, and then one for adolescents. It was fantastic to learn
and share right away. Because I could transfer all my enthusiasm as I was
discovering dance. When "LaLaLa Human Steps" offered workshops I was teaching – it felt very natural. Nobody else in the group was interested in teaching, I
think, or I don´t know how it ended up being me.
corpus: Did you continue to teach after leaving "LaLaLa Human Steps"?
Lecavalier: Soon after I left the company, there were three
occasions for teaching that were offered to me one after the other. One was to
give a workshop in Avignon. The second offer came from Vienna, and one from
Bolzano. It seemed a bit scary to me to go to Vienna and Avignon or Bolzano to
teach – or to any other place in fact. I didn't know if I could really be a
teacher. When I was younger I didn't really ask myself this question. I was
thrown into the action. So they really had to convince me; if they wouldn't
have done so, I would have been much more inclined to say no. I was really
wondering what I could teach to anyone: I felt like such a beginner myself, in
a strange way, more than at the beginning … Well, anyway, in the end I said
yes. I thought that if I had still so much fun learning in a class, almost any
class (when I had the chance to be in a class) then I could also teach. I
thought that sharing something that is precious to me couldn't be so
mysterious, so maybe I could be able to do it. And still I do not consider
myself a real dance teacher because I do not spend so much time to think about
it, I can share a way of training with other dancers and I can give them a few
impressions of what I see in them but I do not do real teachers' work. I might
do that at some point later on but I am not there yet. So after experiencing
the city of Vienna with the hype of performing I discovered that here in Vienna
there was also a hype in teaching.
corpus: Did your methods and ways of training change a lot with the injury you
Lecavalier: When I was injured in 1993 I couldn't do ballet
classes any more. It was impossible to do a first position or anything like
that. The hip was really damaged. Probably it has already been quite bad before
the injury happened but the accident that I had really damaged it in a decisive
way. The moving capacity of my leg decreased immensely. I still tried to attend
dance classes but it was really not possible any more. Even Yoga wasn't
possible because my flexibility was totally gone. I was very impatient. It was
like an insult not even to be able to do yoga. Then I found a boxer in Los Angeles
where I was in order to play a role in a film in which I was supposed to fight.
As I didn't have any idea about how to fight I was looking for a boxing class
and I discovered this teacher. He was really interesting.
Lecavalier: His way of teaching and analyzing the movements was
very close to dance practice and vocabulary. I found out soon that he used to
study dance and philosophy before he became a boxer. So he talked about "second
position", "demi plié" and so on – positions that are named like that in
ballet. But he had much more to offer than that. He was a fantastic teacher,
extremely generous and intelligent, giving the best of his knowledge to anyone
disregarding their apparent potential. In his classes I learned an interesting
technique to build stamina and speed. I was close to that naturally but it was
nice to find other ways to attain it – different from the boring workout in a
gym. There was something like fun and even something creative in the boxing – when there is no desire for destroying or hurting someone or for winning a
competition. Things like fun and creation should also be essential in dance and
When I went back to Montreal to dance, I kept training by myself
including some elements of boxing. I went to the gym even if I didn't like to
train there, but after the injury I really had to. Boxing exercises were a good
alternative to the gym routine. It was very good because it maintained the
muscular capacity in my legs. If I hadn't had strong muscles I probably wouldn't
have been able to dance with that injury. But the muscles were so strong and
they had been so for so many years that I was able to keep them for some time.
I kept training but I was not able to trigger some muscles because of the wrong
position of my hip. So I was losing some muscles but I kept as many as possible
around the articulation to protect the weaker muscles. Nowadays I am totally
surprised if I see how I was dancing in this time – knowing how bad my
This kind of training helped me a lot until I finally got an operation – eleven or twelve years after the accident. I could even dance injured, but my
training consisted only of boxing and cycling and some other specific
exercises. I tried to find my own solutions because nobody could design them
for me. They were not perfect but they worked.
corpus: Did you include your "solutions" into the classes that you were giving?
Lecavalier: Yes, in fact. When Édouard Lock saw me after doing
the boxing classes, he saw that I was in great shape. I told him that I did
this boxing training and that this is in a way very close to his work, so he
asked another boxing teacher to train the women of the company twice a week or
something like that. I have been told that the main teacher of the main ballet
school in Montréal wanted the young students to do boxing exercises before the
ballet class. I do not particularly want to sell boxing to anyone, it is just
interesting how some elements can be connected to the style of dancing that I
liked to perform, especially in the time with "LaLaLa Human Steps".
Since my hip is repaired I train with yoga. All this very muscular
training is very much in my body now, so it is good and maybe essential for me
to train in another way. But I think that if I am teaching it is more
appropriate to bring in something of the work that I did while working with
Édouard Lock. Many teachers can teach yoga better than me. That is why I
decided to take the kind of boxing training that I discovered into my class. I
mixed some boxing exercises with other things. I thought that if I liked that
so much when I was in L.A. it might also be interesting for others.
corpus: Do you think that boxing is also good mental training?
Lecavalier: Any training can be good mentally if you do it with
the right intensity and attitude. Even a floor barre can be a good training,
physically and mentally, it is just about how you do it. If you want to dance
an extreme dance style you need to have the shape to sustain it. But the shape
is not only physical, it is mental. It is about how to pass beyond the point of
fatigue and about finding out different levels. If a training can bring you
that, it's good. I like to work out hard to get a good stamina so that I am
more free in the dancing.
corpus: Did you ever teach people in your workshops any choreographies from
"LaLaLa Human Steps?"
Lecavalier: I teach excerpts. I remember how much I enjoyed to do
solo work in the beginning of joining "LaLaLa Human Steps". Édouard just gave
me little gestures for the hands in the beginning and little other movements.
They were not spectacular but they were different from what I had seen anywhere
else. So I thought that I should maybe start with such little movements. These
are not the very striking elements in dance that people know the company for
but they are always at the beginning of the process when the choreographer
works with new dancers.
corpus: Are you still a guest teacher at the New York University?
Lecavalier: I was not teaching there this year. I was a guest teacher
in 2000 for four months.
corpus: What is the main difference for you between working on your own pieces
and teaching? Does teaching require a totally different attitude? Or does the one
influence the other?
Lecavalier: I like to do both. It is nice to be in contact with
teaching a little bit, although I cannot think of myself as a "real" teacher
that is teaching every day all year long. I am learning with the body all the
time with dancing. When I am teaching I am speaking more, I have to focus more
on the capacity of transferring things to words. If I work for myself there is
no need to put perceptions into words. In a way it is very egoistic and easier
to dance. Teaching asks for more generosity. You easily damage your body while
teaching because you don't protect yourself – just looking at people moving at
the same time as you do. I don't like to sit and to just watch people moving,
that doesn't work in the kind of class that I am giving. It is harder for my
body to teach – harder than to dance. But in a way it is very satisfying
because it is a pleasure to watch someone who is really interested. To perform
is a totally different world. Teaching is like trying to explain the
unexplainable and trying to be concrete. Dancing is more accepting that nothing
is explainable and that that is fine. It is a very pleasurable place.
corpus: Do you think that technique is as important for a dancer nowadays as it
was 20 years ago? If we look at performances in Europe – especially from young
choreographers – technique very often doesn't really count.
Lecavalier: I think that it is important for dancing if you want
to dance, because technique is just a tool. But technique doesn't necessarily
mean ballet technique. Technique can be many things but it may mean that you
know your body, that you know how to make it work. The better you know how to
make your body work, the more options you have. And then you have the privilege
to ask questions with your body and to have the possibilities to answer.The
more options you have physically, the more options you may have in thinking.
The body is not just a body but the body thinks and thinking goes in the body
and vice versa. Technique ... Maybe there are times when you can feel trapped in
it, but the challenge is to go beyond that or to let go some mannerism which is
not technique. Anyway, that was not a very big problem for me because my
technique was never exceeding my needs. It was always on the edge of what I
needed. A technique could be a tool to understand your body. Then why not. But
I think to say that technique is past or unessential is wrong. If it is true
that in Europe the "non-dance" is very popular, then it may be that for doing
good "non-dance" you just need another type of technique.
(August 13, 2008)