Dim Sum Diaries

Anatomy of a Ballet Class - Part 2

Here is the exciting conclusion...

Yvonne (our instructor) was a petite redhead with an artfully coiffed French twist. You could tell she was a dancer. She walked to the center of the room and clapped her hands to get everyone's attention.

"Listen up! The school has a performance tonight and all the teachers are gone, so we're combining all the classes. Don't worry newbies, it won't be too rigorous. And you advanced people, I'll try not to make it too boring." she announced.

That explained the expert stretchers. The dancers who obviously knew each other chatted quietly, but other then that everyone kept to themselves. I felt a little adrift. Part of me hoped that someone would be a little friendly (besides diamond buckle guy) and introduce themselves. However, they seemed to be aloof with everyone. A girl whom I later discovered was in the advanced class walked in the room a little late. The barres were crowded, so she stood there for a good two minutes looking for a space. No one gestured to her or invited her to stand next to them. She finally had to firmly but politely shove between two other dancers.

Typically, a ballet class is a carefully graded sequence of exercises lasting, typically, an hour and a half. The work falls into three parts. The first part consists of stretching and warming-up exercises done with the support of the barre. You may spend anywhere from forty minutes to an hour at the barre. Then you move to the center of the studio to work without support. The second part of class, called adage, consists of slow work in which the emphasis is on sustaining positions and on balance. The final part of class, allegro, consists of fast work, mostly combinations (sequences of steps) with the big jumps and turns that make ballet such an impressive and dazzling sight.

Yvonne started the class at a brisk pace. We began by doing plies combined with various moves. She would spontaneously devise a sequence, run through it a couple of times and we were off. If I didn't catch onto a particular move, I mimicked the person next to me. If she was off, I was off, but I was beginning to remember some of the movements. After about 45 minutes of barre work, we started to do stretches.

"Stretch however you like," Yvonne instructed. The pianist began playing a slow melody. I realized that when ballet dancers stretched, they had to look elegant and graceful doing it. I tried my best to look graceful, but it was hard. I would have been more comfortable plopping myself on the ground and stretching like a runner. I was paranoid that I would rip my tights if I sat down, so I stayed at the barre.

During the second half of the class, Yvonne demonstrated some sequences which involved dancing from one part of the room to the other. Since the class was so big, everyone would take turns in groups of three. Yvonne must have seen the look of abject terror on my face after she herself demonstrated a particularly complicated sequence because she took pity on the beginners and gave us the easy moves.

The music began to play. The advanced dancers, supremely confident of their alpha status in the class, set off with grace and poise. It actually is quite thrilling to see ballerinas (and ballerina guy) dancing at close range. Words cannot express the power and grace they exuded as they leaped across the room, executing pirouettes and jettes.

After allegro, class was finally over. Yvonne had been really nice and it was definitely interesting. However, the whole "not being friendly" thing kind of irked me, so I called my mother on the drive home to gripe.

"Mom..." I wailed when she picked up the phone. "The ballet people were so not friendly!"

"Well, what did you expect? Everyone is there to be serious, not socialize," she said.

"I didn't expect their adoration, but how hard would it have been to at least say hi! Even the newbies ignored me!" I groused.

"You don't remember how it was when you were growing up? The kids in your ballet class back then were just the same. And their parents were snobs too!! If you were in school in China, everyone would have ignored you as well. They are there to learn and that is it," she lectured.

"I guess," I muttered. We talked awhile longer and hung up.

Eventually I realized that my mom was right. Ballet is not a team sport. Ballet dancers weren't there to pinch each others butts and establish camaraderie. Ballet is a solitary art focusing on the betterment of oneself. I would have to go with the attitude of, "I am Giselle...I am a French beetch!" I would be like the advanced girl in the class who unattractively wore her tights over her leotard instead of under like everyone else did. She didn't give a shit. Neither would I.

And yes, I am going again next week.

(all definitions in italics are courtesy of this handy online ballet dictionary).