The Degas Pose

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I know what you’re thinking. You can see it in your mind. If you know anything about Degas’ ballerinas, you know the statue I think you’re thinking about. It’s the girl in a tutu, the bronze sculpture of her standing in the fourth position, hands behind her back, head up. And it’s been replicated about a thousand times. Literally. Actually, I have no clue really. But it really doesn’t matter. That’s not the pose I’m about to talk about.

The one I am talking about is the dancer fixing her shoe. You’ve probably seen that in one of his paintings. And this pose has also been replicated by dancers and photographers. And I love it in his paintings, but I’ll tell you a little secret. I actually truly dislike the way I’ve seen it redone. It always feels contrite, forced, a poor copycat of a genius original.

And yet, I’ve just photographed this exact pose, and I really love it. You see, I love it because Sarah Ryan, soloist with Pacific Northwest Ballet did this pose on her own in between shots I was taking of her. She did it to fix her pointe shoe ribbons, and at that moment, the pose felt right. It felt natural. The angle she was standing, the lighting, and the way her tutu came up behind her. There was nothing about it that I asked her to do, nothing that we created together. It was more of a moment of “hey this shot looks really beautiful” before I hit that shutter, and after I realized why I was so drawn to it.

Tell me I’m crazy. Tell me that I just like it because I took it. And maybe that bias is there. But in my personal opinion, action speaks more words than a pose. An action, taken by a person speaks to who they are in that moment.

And this moment told me that Sarah is graceful and meticulous. She took a second to fix a detail of her wardrobe before moving on to another stunning arabesque.

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