The Word in the Wings

The Word in the Wings  > What is the Corps de Ballet?

What is the Corps de Ballet?

By: Aleksa Lawry

Growing up as an aspiring ballerina meant that every fall semester was Nutcracker season, and dancing at a small-town studio meant that every ballerina played multiple parts, especially when it came time to perform the iconic snow scene. Halfway through The Nutcracker performance every teenage ballerina at the studio, myself included, would hoist on our white tutus and dance an over six minute long number as Snowflakes, led by one Snow Queen. The snow scene was regarded as the epitome of Christmas and of The Nutcracker, a fact my ballet teacher never let us forget. 

corps de ballet

“You are the corps de ballet!” She would yell through the thick air of our poorly ventilated studio. “You must become one dancer!” and “You must follow the Snow Queen! Only move when she moves!” were frequently shouted overtop of Tchaikovsky’s delicate composition. My ballet teacher’s goal was simple: a large group of individual dancers moving in harmony towards one unified purpose. She wanted us to become like snowflakes. Individual, and yet the same. A corps de ballet.

corps de ballet
Corps (pronounced core) is a French word, as are most ballet terms, and it means “the body.” 

So, the corps de ballet is the body of ballet, and its purpose is to be a collective. Sometimes the corps is used in ballets to simply set the scene or fill the stage with dancers. Most often, however, the corps is used to draw attention to the soloist. As Snowflakes, we often gestured toward or danced behind our Snow Queen. The lines and curves of our movement were carefully crafted by our choreographer to whisk the eyes of the audience back towards the center, back towards the soloist. The best corps de ballet is a homogenous, supporting role, moving in such perfect unison that the audience perceives them the same way they see the background, or the costumes, or the music of the show. 

Similarly, the corps du Christ, or the body of Christ, moves under the choreography of the master choreographer, in order to glorify the perfect soloist, Jesus. Ephesians 1: 22-23 says, “And He has put all things under his feet and has made Him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” When Jesus came to Earth, He came to guide us, as our head. We were given a renewed purpose: to bring glory to Him and to fulfill His work. When the corps du Christ moves in harmony together towards God’s missions, we act as the real body of Jesus Himself, and we point others back to our head, which is Christ. 

"God is our master choreographer, and He always sets us where He has chosen us to be."

Sometimes the corps de ballet moves in perfect unison, creating the appearance that they are exact copies of each other, but we humans are not like that in reality at all. We have different interests and skill levels, and we don’t agree on nearly anything. How can we all be one body if we are so different? In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses this concern about the body of Christ, saying, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose.” (1 Corinthians 12: 17-18)

God is our master choreographer, and He always sets us where He has chosen us to be. He gives us specific gifts and talents, and it is our differences in our talents that allow us to move in synchronization together. Just like each corps de ballet dancer moves on a different count of music or stands in a different location to the dancer beside her, the corps du Christ member must take on different roles and actions to the members beside them. Just as the corps de ballet is unified in the desire for the show’s success, in the same way, the corps du Christ must be unified in the desire for God’s will to be done. We must be willing to take on the role that God has set us into, no matter how large or small the contribution may seem. 

corps de ballet
Growing up as a ballerina, I always heard from those outside the world of dance that my art form was a gift, a talent, but when I compared my gift to those around me in the studio, when I listened to the criticisms of those with more experience than me, or when I was told that ballet had no place for me, I didn’t think my talent to be that talented at all. In fact, I thought my gift was a mistake. A mistake that I had thought it to be a gift, and a mistake that God had given such a beautiful gift to such a mistake-maker like me. 

Paul continues in his letter to the Corinthians, saying, “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect…” (1 Corinthians 12: 21-23) I mentioned previously that the best corps de ballet is one which the audience sees as secondary, blending in like the music or background, but this is not meant to imply a lack of value. Without the corps, the performance is incomplete. Swan Lake would be missing its swans. The peasant villages of Giselle and Coppelia would be ghost towns. There would be no snowflakes in the snow scene. 

"The part you play in earnest, no matter how small, is vital to god"

The part you play in earnest, no matter how small, is vital to God. The eye needs the hand, and the head needs the feet. Whatever you have to offer, whether it is your time, your finances, your resources, your talents, or your prayers, whatever your gift may be, no offering given humbly is too weak for our God to use, and no talent, no matter how minor, does our God find disposable. In fact, as Paul implies, our perceptions of value often don’t align with God’s. The talents and resources we think of as too little or too amateur, God sets them in a place of honor. I know that God is a master choreographer. Despite my doubts or failings, or the small size of my gifts, He had in mind a place chosen to set me, just as He pleased. 

Having recently finished my first full season as a ballerina, I can count a hundred times God has honored my meager gift, multiplied my weak talents, blending them with the great gifts of the dancers and directors and musicians and volunteers around me. 

For seven years, I played the part of a snowflake. As the years have continued, I have taken on new roles and played new parts in new shows, and still each and every time the curtain closes, I am grieved to say goodbye to another dance, and another character I got to play. This is the reality of a dancer; we spend our time, our sweat, and our bodies working towards a performance, and then, abruptly, it’s over, and we turn our attention to a new project, a new performance, and a new way to move and inspire an audience. 

This is also the reality of our lives on Earth. The corps du Christ will change in size and in needs as time passes. We will go through seasons where we feel disconnected to the body. Friends and family move away or pass away; new members enter in, and it can be hard to know where we fit in. In times like these, it’s important to remember that though we are scattered across the globe, we are all one body under Christ, placed exactly where God has chosen us to be.

This coming season I will step onto stage as a member of the corps de ballet, with all the responsibility the position holds. But more importantly, I will step into every dance studio, every theater, every church, every home, and every place in between as a member of the corps du Christ, knowing that I have been set by the master choreographer a part to play, using my gift in harmony with other members of the body, to point the audience to the soloist, who is our head, who is Jesus.  

joining the corps


(Scripture quotations in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

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