Many ballet academies have a summer program of classes meant to fill your need for disciplined dance when the company is taking a break from their usual rigorous studies. If you’ve ever taken an introduction ballet class, you might be accustomed to a collection of people who either took ballet as a child twenty years ago, or some mature students who just seek a means of staying fit, toned, and mentally challenged. But when I walked into the ballet on Tuesday night, two students from my winter introduction class were coming out of the first class of the evening, looking a little shell-shocked. When I indicated I was taking the next class of the evening, I was wished good luck. Good luck? I gripped my pink leather slippers tighter in my hand and marched forth. Upon entering the studio, I noticed triple the attendance I was accustomed to. Upon closer inspection, I noticed some “students” had their pointe shoes. Huh. Then I noticed some faces that I recognized from the stage at recent performances I’d attended. “Oh, hi,” I said to my instructor from my winter course. And then I realized. She was there as a student. The piano player was poised to nimbly move her fingers across the keys to deliver allegretto and vivace. The dance instructor, whom I also recognized from the stage, walked in and announced that the class was scheduled to start at 7:15, but she was greedy, so we would start immediately. No stretching? I found a place at the bar, in a corner where I’d hoped no one would pay much attention to me, but the lighting was not in my favor. The instructor took position at the barre, with her long, messy blond hair already showing signs of effort. She rapidly went through a number of moves in ballet shorthand, indicating what phrase we would start with, yadda, yadda, yadda. I absorbed nothing. I began daydreaming of cheese. I looked to the young woman to my right and judged her a fairly good person to imitate, but when the music started, I realized the human body isn’t entirely equipped to move in that way, at that pace. After a number of tendus, pliés, and grande pliés, I wiped my brow, while the instructor indicated that she wasn’t pleased with the lack of articulation. ‘I can do this,’ I said to myself. I stretched my ronde de jambe further, dropped my shoulders, and tried to make a perfect curve with my right arm, when I noticed my grip on the barre would cause an injury if it were a partner. The instructor continued to rattle out instructions at machine gun speed, while I did relevées and fondus. I wiped my brow again. I tried to remember the fundamentals I’d learned in earlier classes, of posture, and of a string extending from the top of my head pulling me towards the ceiling, but I still felt 5’4”. The instructor, I began to refer to her in my mind as Madame Satan, asked us to move to the middle of the room, without the support of a barre. I’d hoped that all my crunches in the past few months would pay off with some real balance. (What kind of cheese, though? A cave-aged Manchego, drizzled with truffled honey?) A dancer from the corps de ballet took up position next to me in the back of the room. Really? Do you just want me to make you look better? We pirouetted. Or it might be more accurate to say that Miss Fancy Feet next to me did her pirouettes and mine, which gave me a better appreciation for her taking position next to me. We arabesqued. We did our pas de basques and our balancés, and I wiped perspiration from my eyes. We moved to the part of class where we executed a phrase that would take advantage of the diagonal distance from one corner of the room to the other, four students at a time. Then we moved to the other corner to execute the same phrase starting with the left foot, which is to say, do everything you just did, but the other way around. This would have been fine had I gotten the first round correct. (How about a Neufchatel with strawberries?) Did someone give the piano player espresso before class? At this point, I’m certain I merely looked like I was sleep-walking. The names of positions and movements had stopped having any meaning. I was grateful, when we finally assembled in the middle of the studio, to perform our ritual reveré.
My advice to you; if you are taking a “beginner” ballet class, and notice some students sporting pointe shoes, gather your things and back out of the room, slowly and quietly. And go eat cheese.