Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Shall We Dance?

In a recent article in the New York Times by Julie Bloom, she reported that models with a background of dance have a substantial advantage over the girls who don’t. She stated that
"a string of in-demand models with serious dance backgrounds literally have a leg up. At the same time, as the pages of this fall’s set of weighty magazines attest, professional dancers are influencing fashion in ways never seen before."
Miss Bloom gave one of the top models, Coco Rocha, as an example.

During my modeling years, I remember many times when I said to myself, “Thank God for my insistent mother.” For every summer when I was a child, she enrolled me in folk dancing. Yes, I would have preferred ballet……but growing up in a third world country - there was not much choice. I used to resent her choosing my activities for me, like the piano lessons and the art classes. But then again, when I was growing up, parents chose for us not the other way around.

I begrudged these 'forced' dance and music lessons, but in them I learned how to count beats in music; alternating between allegro and andante. I was able to determine that there is a high point and a low point in every piece of music. I also learned that any piece of music tells a story and that I am able to use my body to tell that story. Not that I was a critical thinker when I was younger because one just takes the lessons and forgets them, however, because one has the basics of music and dance, one is now wired to pick up those clues when listening to music. I also learned how to perform: I learned how to be comfortable in front of an audience despite my resistance to it.

Up to this day, even way after I retired as a model, I found myself taking numerous dance classes and exploring where my body could take me. I took African dance, Afro-Cuban dance, salsa, ballroom, belly dancing, etc. You name it…I can dance it. Dance gives me an outlet for creativity. In the same way singers use their voices as musical instruments, though I am not a prima ballerina, I use my body as an instrument of creative expression, as well.

Genre, tempo, and downbeat of the music were the biggest clues for me of how I would enter the runway. It was instinctive.

There were multiple times in my career when the musical advantage was blatant. Where other girls just walked down the runway, I danced down the runway, figuratively. There was even a time when designers like Versace would ask the girls to walk against the music. This is done sometimes to give the show a different edge. And even with that, a model can just walk and disregard the music but I found myself walking not to the downbeat but to another rhythm that I could hear from the music. Drummers know what I am talking about. It is a nuance, yes, not consciously observed by the audience, but I am still walking in harmony with the music while other girls walked like they were just walking in the street.

It was not always easy to do your own thing. Most of the time, we are asked to walk with other girls especially in ready to wear collections. But there are many times when you are given the opportunity to do as you please. When I was a starving model in Paris, we had to do a huge show in a chateau in Versailles somewhere, for Kenzo. The girls were transported to the place on a very comfortable bus in the morning. We had so much time to rehearse and prepare that by the time the guests arrived from Paris we were all ready and made-up. We were backstage drinking champagne. A big group of models formed a circle and even took turns dancing in the middle while the circle clapped their hands. I remember Gloria Burgess regaling us with her dancing antics. We were just having ‘bored models amuse themselves’ kind of fun.

When the show started, I had to go out with about 11 other girls wearing Balinese inspired dresses. I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was the champagne. Maybe it was because it was a party, really and everyone was just having fun, even the audience. Backstage, even Kenzo was relaxed and giggly. Maybe because I knew instinctively that as a new model in Paris, I had to make a move sometime to get noticed. This was a good place as any for we were out of the ‘tents’. (collection time shows) It was not a press show but a show celebrating Kenzo. The difficult journalists were not in town; most were French press and the French are usually very open to originality and uniqueness. I don’t know what got into me but I let the music carry me. When I was walking down the runway, I started to pose like a Balinese dancer making all the hand movements from the Balinese dance while walking down the runway.

The thing about doing something good is that some of the girls after me started to copy me and do the same thing. It was not part of the choreography but it became part of it. I am not saying that a model should do unrehearsed things on the runway, especially these days where they expect girls to march in and out of the runway. But sometimes you, as a model, are given a chance to excel where it does not disrupt the flow of things and where your creativity is much appreciated. It is at that time that you should dance.

I remember once during a couture show of Christian Lacroix, I was given a Virgin Mary gown, a gold/silver shift that clung to my body. On top of that, I wore a huge stole of the same material but embroidered and it was placed on top of my head like a virgin’s veil. The music in the background was operatic aria. There is a high point in the music when the tenor belts out a “high C”. I walked down the runway to the music slowly waiting for the music to build up. As the music got faster and more intense, so was my approach of the top of the runway where a model turns and poses to go back. When the tenor hit the note, I was right on the place where I was supposed to be and I dramatically dropped the veil at the same time to go around my arms like a stole. The audience burst out in tremendous applause. It was really a timing thing and I really could not duplicate it in the next 2 shows. During the break before the next show, Lacroix people: the ladies of the atelier and the press agents of Lacroix, came to me and told me their hairs stood up during that passage. In a way, I knew. I knew I hit the high note and it was perfect. I knew that I moved to the music and it carried both the audience and me to a point of climax that the image and the moment will stay in their minds for a long time. I knew that I did a great job and that this house will hire me again for the next season. I also knew that Christian will not hesitate to assign his beautiful gowns to me for I knew how to make his clothes come alive. It was really a moment. And the thing with moments….you have to be ready when it comes. They say that “One should dance like nobody is watching.” In modeling, sometimes you should find that inner dancer in you, pretend nobody is watching and express yourself.