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You Should be Dancing (and Quilting)!

A behind-the scenes moment in a company of French ballet dancers captured by 19th century Impressionist Edgar Degas–do you get the idea that the red-haired dancer is the bossy one?

If our bi-weekly blog posts at See How We Sew are about sewn matters, you have every right to ask why Jennifer is squeezing in a dance-related topic. I know, I’m pushing the envelope here, but I’m pretty sure most of us who craft with needle and thread are also people of broader artful tastes.  As much as we sew, we may also act, dance, sing, or perform. Those other outlets fuel and enrich us as we create our quilts and crafts.

My thing is ballet. Yup, I don a leotard (perhaps a dance skirt as well if I happen to be channeling Terpsichore that day) and find a place at the barre for class. I’ve been following that ritual since I was 7 years old and, fingers crossed, I hope I’ll keep it up.

Sure, I do other things like pilates, yoga and cardio sessions, but there’s nothing as satisfying to me as ballet class.  Believe me, that’s saying something.  Especially nowadays when I find myself taking class with teenagers and professional dancers who could be my children—the physical contrast isn’t in my favor and it’s getting worse!

Another Degas: I confess to pink tutu love–what little girl wouldn’t want to wear one?

I wish that I could translate what I feel about dance into quilt making. So far, my attempts are rudimentary at best, especially if you contrast still images of dancers with highly skilled ballet professionals at work. Take a look at this YouTube film of an early morning class at the Royal Ballet in London—I guarantee you will be transfixed and inspired: Royal Ballet LIVE. (The heart of the class–the center work–begins around 28 minutes.) Can you see why I’m flummoxed?

Creative fodder for Lura Schwarz Smith’s award-winning “Seams Like Degas”

Even if I’m at a conceptual roadblock translating a dynamic art form into a two-dimensional format, other quilters have found ways to capture the essence of dance in their quilts.  Lura Schwarz Smith scored awards and industry acclaim with her interpretation of  Edgar Degas’ ballet paintings.  Here she echoes a quiet moment as dancers tweak their costumes backstage preparatory to dancing.

This incredible quilt “Seam Like Degas” earned inclusion in Primedia’s Top 100 Quilts of the 20th century. Click the image to visit Lura’s website and enjoy her spectacular quilts.

Caryl Bryer Fallert, another quilter who earned a spot in Primedia’s Top 100 Quilts of the 20th Century with Corona II: Solar Eclipse, also explores balletic themes. In Dancing With the Shadow #1:  Harmony, she captures some of the bravura performance moments that typically make audiences gasp as skillful dancers sustain on-pointe poses on mere breaths of music. (Go back and watch those Royal Ballet dancers at the latter half of the class–you’ll see those cherry-on-the-top moments.)

In a pair of recent quilts, Caryl explores her “Blue Period” with dancing figures using techniques she’s developed over years of experimentation. She’s figured out how to depict the feeling of movement–now we just need to add the music to complete a virtual dancing experience! (Click the images below to to learn more about each quilt from the artist.) Mind you, I’m only featuring a selection of Caryl’s dance-themed quilts. Do visit her website to enjoy more of her dance explorations–rumor has it she’s been seen on a dance floor or two as well.

Dancing Through the Blues #1 by Caryl Bryer Fallert

Dancing Through the Blues #2 by Caryl Bryer Fallert.

In Sikiel: Angel of the Sirocco featured below, Lura uses masterful piecing and applique techniques as well as digital imagery so Sikiel can dance in the wind on almost-transparent streams of air. Her quilt reminds me of childhood moments traveling in the backseat of the family car when I’d stick my hand out the window so the racing wind could lift it like an airplane’s wing.

Hmm, I think Lura and Caryl have given me much to think about when I decide to tackle my dance-themed quilt. In the meantime, though, I’ll be doing what I’ve done every summer in recent memory. I plunk myself down in front of the TV with a little handwork and watch my guilty pleasure:  So You Think You Can Dance, although I’m going to add something else to my dance viewing this year. Ballet in Cinema is offering worldwide audiences the opportunity to see performances of the Royal Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet at local movie theaters.  Consider this–watch the YouTube of the Royal Ballet first and then catch some of those very same dancers in performance at your cinema.

Until next time, remember we’ll be strutting our stuff (not dancing, though) at Quilting in the Garden in September . . . and, before closing,  my thanks to Lura and Caryl who generously allowed me access to their quilts to feature in this post.

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