Graceful and Passionate
A Dancer Dies Twice
Monique is one of my favorite models at The Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. She chooses poses from an artist's point of view - often exaggerated with an underlying tension; each has a natural quality appearing effortless. Her three-hour sessions are a unique gift that most likely stem from years of studying dance.
Over time I learn about her journey to become a professional ballerina and the final injury that crushes her dream. While most five-year-olds are laughing and playing with friends, she begins studying ballet and loves it. Her classmates are her playmates, and Arielle is her best friend throughout the years.
At fifteen, they leave home to attend the same dance boarding school and eagerly glide into its strict culture - one that demands rigorous discipline, and the slightest excuse is forbidden: students eat, sleep, and breathe dance.
Even though Arielle is the better dancer and surpasses Monique in many areas, including technique and musicality, jealousy does not intrude into their relationship. Each is the head cheerleader and main confidante for the other. Dance is their sole passion.
Unfortunately, Monique endures numerous injuries throughout her training and short-lived professional career. At twenty-six, she quits dancing to focus on repairing her body.
She attempts but fails to maintain her composure as she softly utters, "a dancer dies twice - my first death comes much sooner than I could ever anticipate." I listen intently without judgment. My heart breaks as she shares her journey filled with obstacles and turmoil. Lost in an unfamiliar world, she struggles unsuccessfully to move forward with a new purpose.
At twenty-eight, her only stage is in the large room at The Académie - she is the star. I gaze nonstop at Monique, admiring her strength, grace, flexibility, and beauty. Wondering how I will ever capture her essence - I begin anew with each pose - never satisfied, but refusing to be defeated.
Sporadically she will break out into spontaneous movement - stopping suddenly to strike her next pose. The entire room fills with a mixture of sounds representing delight. Her elegance captivates me and mysteriously rips through my apprehension. Monique knows how to deliver a flawless session.
Models finish promptly at 5 p.m. We have ample time to gather and pack our materials carefully. Noticing Monique wrapped in her usual burnt orange fleece blanket - I capture the moment with my camera: a painting for another day.
Later, as we walk to Métro Vavin, she talks about her first performance with Arielle - one of her most treasured moments. Looking at me intently, she whispers, "we were adorable in our pink tutus and slippers."
There are no more words - only silence.