By Rachel Totten Keith
The idea of “us” and “them” was perfectly encapsulated the night my husband and I saw a ballet for the first time. We had purchased tickets to Dracula, a ballet featuring the Texas Ballet Theater and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. We had seen other live arts performances before: concerts, plays, and musicals. However, we had never seen a ballet. In a ballet, there are no words—only music and dancers’ movements are used to tell the story. We were a bit worried that we would not be able to follow the storyline, so in preparation, we read the original Dracula by Bram Stoker written in 1897 and viewed the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Gary Oldman that was released in 1992. We originally thought that there would be defined “us-” and “them-factors”—the people that been to the ballet before versus we that had never been before. However, as the night progressed, the situation became fluid. Who was “us” and who was “them” changed as the evening went on, as we became a part of the situation.
According to Stan Rummel in our text, we “ask and answer the basic questions of [our] lives in the context of some group with whom [we] feel an identity” (section 1.1). He refers to this as “the us-factor” and those that are different as “them.” The “them-factor” refers to the “other” that is apparent when we start focusing on divisions in our world and using those divisions to define ourselves as what we are not. At the theater, the “us-factor” defined my husband and I as two people who had never before been to the ballet. Everyone else was “them”—from the Bass Performance Hall greeters and staff to the other ticket holders milling about the lobby and bar. After sometime, we realized that the ballet is no different than any other type of live art performance, and the “them” changed from every one else at the venue, to “them”—everyone who dressed as though they were just going out for dinner at a chain restaurant. The staff greeters and ticket takers were dressed formally in matching red suit jackets and the male staff wore bow ties. Many of the other attendees were dressed semi-formally in suits and dresses or slacks. Many “them” dressed in jeans and were every casual, indicating that they did not know that when attending a live arts performance on a Saturday night, a certain level of formality of dress is expected out of respect for the performers.
When we first arrived, we considered ourselves “them” because we felt we were the group that knew nothing about the ballet. We felt that we were the outsiders and the minority and that everyone else knew what was going and where to go. No one was being let into the theater at first, so we were all waiting in the lobby and looked at static displays and drinking “adult” beverages from the bar. However, because we realized that we were quite comfortable in the situation from attending similar events, we noticed that we were a part of “us,” meaning, we were a part of the group that regularly see live arts performances and that there were “other” or “them,” that truly had never had such experiences and were wearing really casual clothing. I felt like “they” should no better or at least do some online research regarding the level of formality of dress that is expected at such events. I also thought it was odd how quickly a situation can change when your perception of ourselves and how will you “fit in” changes. This was not the last time the situation would change.
After we were led from the lobby into the theater by the ushers, a new dynamic was created. We were all now “us,” waiting for the ballet to begin. The theater was warm and everyone was sweating and exclaiming how warm it was inside. Because we were in our seats, it was less apparent who was wearing what and who was appropriately dressed and who was not. When the ballet began, the audience remained “us” and the dancers on stage became “them.” We laughed together and sighed together as an audience in reaction to the story that was unfolding onstage. We watched the central characters come alive on stage and we became a part of the story in the fight against Dracula and when the young female protagonist was saved from his clutches, we all heard ourselves gasps in the audience in response to the pyrotechnics during Dracula’s final moments of defeat. In the end, Boyer’s Human Commonalities united us through the story: the events of life, love, marriage, and death were portrayed on stage and this bound everyone in the audience, as we cheered during the happy ending. “Us” also eventually included the dancers as they danced for us and we were stunned by their gifts and capabilities as dancers. We all appreciated the hard work they must do practicing and performing which further united “us” in concept. The use of dance as a “universal language of art” also unified the audience to the dancers.
Two elements of critical thinking were most important in completing this experience and analysis: concepts and assumptions. Concepts are “ideas, theories, laws, principles, or hypotheses we use to make sense of things,”according to Richard Paul and Linda Elder. The concepts of “us” and “them” were important in understanding the event of the ballet that night, as our experience adapated to the changing scenarios, and our ideas were elevated. The element of assumption had a lot to do with our initial point of view about being “them” or the outsiders, new to the ballet experience. Assumptions “are beliefs you take for granted” (Paul & Elder) and we made a lot of assumptions in the beginning. We assumed we would not understand the story with only music and dance telling it. We assumed that we were “them,” the outsiders being ballet “virgins.” Assumptions, however, were oblitereated by knowledge and experience as we endured the situation.
Rummel, Stan. “Us and them: What’s My Geography.” TxWes. N.d., n.d. Web. 27 October 2015. http://faculty.txwes.edu/csmeller/Human-Experience/Exp09Start2007.htm
Paul, Ronald, and Linda Elder. “Critical Thinking Model.” Criticalthinking. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 October 2015.