Dancer in Front of a Window - Edgar Degas
Branches etch the film of ice
on the studio window. A crow looks in,
hopping and shrieking when I dance
in my black tutu, trimmed with silver.
The ballet master says, you are its mother.
But in a crow’s sky-knowing mind
could I be so misconstrued?
Out of the blackest
cold-wet air, the crow seems molded.
The stars will not wake up to guide it
back to the creek of shadows
where it was formed. Practice, practice.
I am smoke in darkness, climbing away
from a burning hut, in an otherwise empty field
on which the fire is slight and low,
and the rest of it is snow.
I stumbled across this poem on the Poetry Foundation website and was immediately drawn to it because of my background. I took dance lessons from kindergarten to my senior year of high school and they were such a huge part of my life. The opening of this piece reminded me a bit of The Black Swan, but with a crow instead. The dancer moves in a black tutu, becoming one with a crow outside the window. A ballerina focuses her entire body and mind on portraying her role. If she is cast as Clara from The Nutcracker, then that’s exactly who she becomes when she puts on her tutu and steps into the spotlight. I loved that Chloe Honum established a connection between the dancer and the crow, for this immediately established an eerie feeling, and I think ballet is darker than most people realize.
The imagery adds even more darkness to this poem. The line “Branches etch the film of ice on the studio window” suggests that it’s wintertime, which from personal experience adds even more power. There’s something about the contrast between the icy outside air and the sweat and heat from dancing – I remember feeling like I was warming the world with my passion and movement. The studio in winter is cold and keeps the mind alert, but after hours of practice the windows begin to fog and you forget what lies outside, what lies around you, or even where you are and how long you’ve been there.
I read a bit about the poet; she wrote this poem about her time in high school when she wanted to be a ballerina. She remembers spending long winter days rehearsing in the studio by herself. She felt isolated and alone, but she was okay with that. I was confused about the last verse of Dress Rehearsal, for it didn’t seem to connect with the rest of the poem. However, I think it emphasizes the contrast between heat and cold that I mentioned before. It also adds to the sense of “loneliness” that the poet felt during her studio time. Designating herself as “smoke”, she responds to the mental state of a dancer: drifting away from consciousness and forgetting all but the passion in her head and her heart. The burning hut in an empty, snowy field symbolizes one dancer, sweating with determination in an otherwise frigid atmosphere.