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At the Ballet, Day 124

September 22, 2010

“That’s beautiful, Abigail” – a phrase I didn’t expect to hear during my first ballet class at thirty-two. Well, according to Suzi Winson at the Circus Warehouse, I have that one arm position nailed. The rest will undoubtedly take some time and serious focus, neither of which come terribly easily to me.

Dance instruction I’ve received, in modern jazz accelerated far too quickly for lifelong retention, in colorguard in high school marching band (actually where I learned ballet positions), from Suzy Zucker in my high school musicals, and from Virginia Freeman at the Maryland Opera Studio, four semesters of period dance. So when discussions began at Richland Light Opera about my dancing abilities, I felt secure that with hard work I could handle anything they might throw my way as a singer/actor who moves well. An email arrives, “Our choreographer would like to know if you can do a “fouetté en tournant.”

After having received this email, I had several dancers and ex-dancers (not professionals) tell me how much they hate that move. Clearly I have my work cut out for me! Thank God for Suzi, her sweetly irresistible email offer to me for a free class at Circus Warehouse, and her talent for straightforward instruction, because I felt like a complete mess yesterday before arriving in Long Island City. Scheduling just enough time during the day to swing by Capezios for some new ballet rehearsal shoes before riding my bike home to shower and change, I didn’t anticipate having to sew the elastic into my own slippers.

Sewing on the subway – indeed, not a pastime I intend to develop. Although I arrived flustered and almost late with new shoes in hand, the class had not yet begun, and I had ample time to discuss with Suzi my concerns and goals in preparing to perform a leading role this fall. Lynette, a more seasoned ballet student in this open level class, assured me that if anyone could help me, Suzi Winson could. In the course of over an hour and a half of barre work and some choreographed dance, Suzi taught, corrected, praised, and gave advice helpful to everyone in the class, regardless of level. Lynette had actually repeated the same class twice that day just to learn more, and she ecstatically reported that she learned a great deal from Suzi’s miscellaneous style tips throughout the class – surprisingly simple techniques she had never learned in years of dance study.

What did I learn?

  • One cannot compare ballet to any period, modern, or ballroom dance class I’ve ever taken.
  • Balletists use completely different muscles to perform some of the same actions one would do naturally, such as lifting one’s leg in the air.
  • Isolation! A key factor of ballet involves using muscles in isolation from one another, as well as together. Although I have experienced this in gym, yoga, and Alexander Technique exercises, ballet positions and moves seemed far less, if not counter-intuitive to me.
  • Pretty pictures take time, practice, and a lot of strength and balance.
  • As an adult, the best instruction involves time to listen, process, question, and respond to find the most efficient way to train each individual student.

Children in ballet don’t seem to have many opportunities to stop and discuss while receiving correction. Although I, beginning studies in my thirties, will never truly achieve ballerina status as an adult, I have a thoughtful, intelligent, and talented instructor capable of tailoring a group class to improve each individual on my side. In traveling to Long Island City for my training, I also have the benefit of studying with ridiculously talented circus arts professionals and students, training with me in ballet or alongside the class in trampoline, static trapeze, and aerial silks. Of course, I’ll also never look as cute in a tutu as my niece Kendal, but perhaps she’ll teach me a few tricks of her own before I leave for rehearsals in mid-October. In the meantime, I’ll have to practice my posture and terms and rely on Suzi’s expertise in group and individual lessons to prepare me for a confident rehearsal period and the performances. If you decide to join me for class, I’ll attend the next two Tuesdays with Suzi at Circus Warehouse from 7pm-8:30pm. Now to work on my stance

2 Comments leave one →
  1. NotYourMom permalink
    September 22, 2010 9:09 pm

    You inspire me, Abby. I have always wanted to take ballet classes but my weight (and…I suspect…my self-esteem (insert lack-thereof) always held me back. Tonight I find myself sitting at America’s Keswick in Whiting…searching for a lost spiritual connection with my maker…just plain ole’ soul-searching a la EAT, PRAY, LOVE minus the EAT part. One of the themes has been “What am I afraid of?”. It isn’t life, God, or sheise-that-happens that is holding me back…just me…being afraid of…everything? When I return home tomorrow…I think I will be time for me to make changes for the better and stop being my own obstacle. Who knows? I may put on those ballet slippers in a not-so-distant future.

    • September 22, 2010 9:40 pm

      Oh Margie (love that you still post as NotYourMom), thank you. It’s a battle for all of us each day to abandon excuses, and we have to make the decision every day – like you are right now. If you ever want to try ballet if you’re in the city on a Tuesday, I know Suzi would love you. She’s a big fan of working with the age and bodies we have, and I couldn’t agree more. You’re amazing, Margie – good luck with tomorrow!

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