Sunday, November 15, 2009

Duncan Noble

I want to write about a man who was a huge part of my training. He was my teacher, Duncan Noble. I have dedicated every performance to him in my bio since he passed away some seven or so years ago.

When I was a youngster training in the preparatory division of the North Carolina School of the Arts("University" had yet to precede the title as it does now,) I wore glasses. Big glasses. I was a scrawny kid with wiry hair that unlike me hadn't decided what it wanted to be when it grew up. As a kid in the after school program, I had different teachers than those in the high school and college division. I did however know who the teachers were, and I had great respect and fear for a couple of them.

Their reputations preceded them. Melissa Hayden was known for her sharp tongue and brutal(and sometimes confusing) coaching techniques. Mr. Noble was known for a very quiet, direct, sarcastic and intimidating presence. Mind you, these are my personal recollections.

One of the earliest memories I have of Mr. Noble even noticing me came in a story my Mother told me after class in the car one day. "Did you see that Mr. Noble was watching?" she asked. "I don't know that he knew I was your Mother, but he spoke to me of you." I was excited and asked what he said. He said in his slow mellow tone, "When is that boy ever going to get contacts?" I lost it. That was it? That was all he had to say? Nothing about my dancing?!? I had such and insecurity about those glasses, and somehow with those few words I was crushed. I started bawling right there in the car. Needless to say, I had contact lenses shortly thereafter!(I actually prefer to wear glasses now-funny how perspective changes!)

Mr. Noble was my first main teacher when I went to NCSA as a full-time student in eight grade. I didn't get him at all. He taught the same class daily, he was so meticulous-frankly, I was bored. On top of all that, he picked on me relentlessly. I didn't have a naturally flexible "ballet body," and he would say things such as, "Matt, I'm going to tie a rope around each of your legs, attach them to two horses and send them in opposite directions. Then maybe you'll have some turn-out." I was an overly serious student. I couldn't take anything lightly. Everything was a personal attack in my eyes. I had yet to learn the humor in life(and I still struggle) especially when it comes to ballet. Oh the naivete of youth! His class was anything but boring. It was technical! He was laying the groundwork I needed to base my technique upon. More than that however, he was teaching me to have a sense of humor in my art.

In those days, Mr. Noble taught the first and third trimesters of the year. I left the Fall trimester happy to be finished with his class. During the next couple of months, I began to lighten up a bit. I saw him in some contexts outside of the studio, I heard the older male dancers speak with such respect of him, and more than that, I saw from their actions and work that they had learned so much from him. I wanted that.

The first class back of the Spring term, Mr. Noble responded to whatever I was or wasn't doing by asking, "Matthew, where is your head? Would you like to leave and come back in and start over?" Before, this would have ripped me apart inside, but this time I responded somewhat precociously, "Why yes sir, I would like to." And I walked out of the studio, turned back around and strutted back to my place in class. I knew that it was perhaps one of the most risky and potentially disrespectful things I could have done, and I held my breath the whole time.

From then on, we got along great. I wasn't afraid anymore. I learned that he simply wanted me to lighten up. I finally understood. I went on to learn so much from that man over the course of my studies there. Let it be noted that there was never any disrespect in my familiarity with my teacher. He was in charge, and I never crossed any lines in my speech or actions towards him.

Lately, I've been thinking about my experience with those who gave me the knowledge to do what I have been doing. Mr. Noble was such a well of information and a guide to many of the male dancers in this country that went through that school. His passing left such a hole in (U)NCSA. I suppose I'm telling this because I wanted to pay a little extra homage to him as I continue on.

The ability to laugh at myself-and others quite frankly-has helped to make this such a rewarding career. Not everyone would know this about me if they were on the outside looking in, but trust me. I would have thrown the towel in years ago if it weren't for the ability to laugh or give a smart-alecked response to break tense moments. I have indeed crossed the line at times during my professional years, but I have always tried to apologize when I'm in the wrong.

Thank you Mr. Noble for your training, your sarcasm and your relentless belief in me and all of your students. You are still missed very much.

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