by Josef Brown

Climate Change is an issue that people all around the world are engaged with. And of all the prickly questions posed, one of the thorniest is; how much will action on climate change cost? 

Until recently this has been a sticking point for those arguing for action because the truth is, no-one knows for sure. There are climate models that paint a picture which ranges from shifts causing moderate to severe to catastrophic change. Yet they can’t know for sure, because we’re in uncharted territory. We’re at the fringes of the maps, beyond which there may be dragons. The climate has rarely shifted as fast as it currently is and so no-one can be certain how quickly we need to transition and what that cost might ultimately be. The logical counter might simply be, surely it’s better to err on the side of caution when the cost of making the wrong bet in this scenario could be catastrophic with the consequences barely fathomable beyond a Hollywood script. 

Those arguing for more action are starting to make counter arguments asking; what is the cost of inaction, the cost of doing nothing, the cost of business as usual? And yet the answer of course is; no-one knows that either. Yet at least the problem has now been spun in an interesting way that begins to provide a broader, more realistic picture of the dilemma

Recently I was chatting with a visiting professional dancer from a country in Europe that has a long and proud history of ballet. They were here enjoying some needed down time in Sydney. Through a mutual connection they were gracious enough to give me some of their time so we could chat about MDM, and I could introduce them to the range and the unique innovations. 

Early on in our discussion the dancer looked at me with a twinkling, somewhat condescending smile and confessed that, while they were happy to meet it’s best I understand from the outset that their point of view was that their Nation had been developing some of the world’s greatest dancers for hundreds of years, so why would they need to change or do anything different? 

On the face of it this argument seems plausible. It’s true, past and current ballet technique, culture and practices have produced phenomenal dancers; so why change anything? 

What this view of dance culture and the issues around climate change have in common is that they don’t ask; but what have we missed? What is and has been the cost of inaction? What has been the cost of business as usual? What is the cost of sticking with tradition, at the expense of questioning with an open mind? 

Dance has produced phenomenal dancers because, like in every field of endeavour, there will always be those that will rise to the relative top whatever the conditions, and those that don’t. But our job as educators, instructors and carers of the young is to provide more opportunity, to provide wider, more varied platforms that allow more young people, from increasingly diverse areas, cultures and socio-economic conditions etc. the chance to be one of the best, or simply the chance to enjoy dance as best as they are able or desire. 

To keep this article more specific to footwear - though the argument could be extrapolated to any part of our dance culture - how many dancers gave up, burnt out or were forced to retire early, or left dance due to injury and fatigue because of something as simple as their footwear not being quite right? 

Incorrect footwear can potentially cause micro-tensions, which over time can lead to injuries. This micro-tension might simply be due to the fit not being quite right: that a dancer is trying to force their foot into a shoe that is too small or not wide enough to allow the muscles to work properly. Or perhaps their foot has grown and no-one has picked up on the changes. Perhaps the style might be forcing their foot to subtly contort. Perhaps the footwear they were told they must have doesn’t provide enough support and correction at a time when they require it, or perhaps a viable alternative simply didn’t exist. That is, one pair of ballet flats was pretty much like any other so you might as well make your choice based on cost or convenience i.e. can I access them easily and are they cheap. Thankfully, due to the innovations in the MDM range this is no longer the case. 

How many dancers have we lost, those that never went on, that might have if only they’d been allowed to make a better choice, indeed actively educated and encouraged to try alternatives? How many more could have enjoyed their dancing longer and left with fewer injuries, or without injuries that followed them long into their non-dancing careers? 

It’s easy to see what’s in front of us and that’s why it’s said, history is written by the winners. We don’t hear from all those that have fallen too early, succumbed too young, whose lives and what they had to offer will forever resonate as a long silence throughout time, a silence we must listen to carefully in order to know reality and not merely the story we tell ourselves; the story of winners. 

More recently I had the pleasure of catching up with a representative from a competitive brand – who happens to be lovely! – while they were touring Australia and New Zealand on behalf of their company. The conversation turned to “suffering for art”, an idea that we agreed still persists in the thinking of some teachers and dancers. In this context, the idea being that suffering in a pointe shoe is perceived as somehow noble and necessary, some masochistic rite of passage that every young – mostly female – dancer should endure with pride. 

Where does such thinking come from? Is it because some teachers suffered, perhaps because they had the wrong shoe, or because there wasn’t an alternative to suffering in their day and they therefore believe such suffering is an inherent and necessary part of the craft? 

All humans suffer. We don’t have to add more suffering. We suffer from the natural changes of growing up, from falling in and out of love, from sacrificing to attain the things we want, avoiding the things we don’t and to make the people we love and care about happy. As dancers, we might sacrifice, and therefore suffer to a degree, some close friendships and family relationships to give more time to our craft. We might sacrifice comfort and suffer by pushing ourselves physically hard, to near exhaustion; or sacrifice security by taking ourselves overseas to spin the wheel and try our luck in another country, and sacrifice financial security by pursuing a craft and career that remains relatively undervalued in many countries etc. There is much potential for suffering, and so we don’t need to add unnecessarily to it to prove our commitment or devotion. 

The point (excuse the pun) explored in our conversation, was that there are now many viable alternatives in pointe shoes and, if we open our minds, we can find one that is right for each dancer that will free them from the unnecessary suffering of simply being on pointe. 

And so again, it made me wonder; what is the cost of inaction, the cost of not opening our minds and exploring new pathways? 

Dance has always produced beautiful dancers. Yet how many more might we have produced? How many more with fewer injuries that enjoyed an even longer career and so could share their richer life experiences with us, telling us even more interesting stories? How many more Sylvie Guillem’s and Alessandra Ferri’s might we have witnessed and marvelled at, dancers being able to dance into their late 40’s, 50’s and beyond enriching our lives in as yet untold and unknown ways if only more dancers and teachers thought a little more outside the box? 

Athletes today, like Roger Federer and Tiger Woods are smashing the mould of what’s possible in their chosen fields and we see that across the board. That’s due to a range of things they think about from tweaking their training schedules, to the equipment they use, the food they eat, the sleep they get and yes, even the footwear they choose. They could have settled. They could have done what everyone else had done previously and they’d probably be retired now. Yet instead they, like millions of athletes around the world asked the questions; what is the cost of my inaction, of doing nothing? What is the cost of choosing the business as usual model? Could I do it better? 

We can do it better. It requires thinking outside the box, looking anew at the traditions we hold dear and value, questioning with an open mind and trusting in our innate creative potential. 

MDM – the future is now.


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