Dance Script with Electric Ballerina

by Alice Fulton
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Themes and Meanings

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On one level, “Dance Script with Electric Ballerina” is very clearly about a ballerina discussing her moves and delineating her beliefs about the correct aim for dance. Another layer of meaning is present, however: Fulton is presenting her own poetic credo; she hopes to do on the page what her ballerina does in performance.

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Many images and metaphors in the poem can be read as pertaining to both dance and poetry. Early in the poem the dancer describes her “script” by saying, “I’ve dispensed with some conventions// I’m out to disprove the limited orbit of fingers.” While one might first interpret this line to mean that the dancer wants to use her material—parts of her body, such as her hands—in new ways, Fulton also tries to use her material to push beyond the “limited orbit of fingers”—the expected output from a writer’s hand. Within the italicized section of critics’ comments, many statements could have come from literary, not dance, reviewers. For example, the only positive critic in the section states, “I’m mildly impressed/ by her good line,” a comment which could easily refer to a poet.

In addition to using metaphors that can be read in two ways, Fulton uses metaphors that directly apply to writing. The ballerina wants to be like sparkler-waving children who “sketch their initials on the night.” She talks of the “air patterns/ where I distill the scribbling moves” and wishes that her dance moves left a physical trace in the air that could be read like a language. She dreams of a perfect understanding when the critics overcome their lack of imagination but knows that until such communication can take place, she is only “signing space,” and her signature so far is unintelligible to the critics.

If Fulton had tried to write a poem that only discussed her poetic credo, the poem might have failed because of self-consciousness. By creating her ballerina, Fulton wisely does two things at once: She presents a character who provides insight into the world of dance, and she articulates her unconventional views of what a poem should do. “Dance Script with Electric Ballerina” might serve as an introduction to the rest of Fulton’s work. After seeing the dance critics fail because of their faulty expectations, her readers have enough information to judge her work more fairly. They should not expect a sugar-coated, soothing kind of poetry for a passive reader but a poetry that needs a fellow dancer to complete the electrical current she has begun.

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