Sunday, June 26, 2011

Barre Work

My history with ballet is messy.

Basically, I hate it. And I hate it because I don't have any real training in it. I don't know the language they use, and, therefore I don't know many of the steps or movements.

And yet, every few years, I end up trying it again. Because it's good for me. Because it forces my body to do things I otherwise never ask it to do, and because it improves my balance, lengthens my muscles and helps me spatially.

I leave ballet class knowing my body better and understanding its kinetics and how small adjustments make big improvements in power, strength and stability.

So ages ago I bought a Groupon for three adult ballet and/or hip hop classes at the Cincinnati Ballet.

Usually I take Rhythm and Motion at the Ballet (did anyone else see the class doing a little flash mob at the Hyde Park Blast party last night? It was phenomenal and spirited as always), and I love it there - the big studios with walls of mirrors and dancers of all types. It's walking onto the set the of Fame, and I am definitely going to live forever.

After months and months of sitting on the Groupon, I finally decided Saturday morning I would face the barre for my yearly ritual of reminding myself why I hate ballet. I was prepared to leave scowling and spend the rest of my Groupon on hip-hop classes, where I could break it down all America's Best Dance Crew style and randomly shout "WHAT! WHAT!" during class.

Saturday morning I pulled on my pale pink footless tights, black booty dance shorts, a purple tank top and a white off-the-shoulder dance shirt.

Look, I might nearly twist my ankle off in a pirouette and arabesque with the crepitude of a granny, but damn it, I will look the part. (I also might have looked the part of a tween girl attending a Go Go's concert in 1982… My lips are sealed.)

The instructor was Cincinnati Ballet soloist Dawn Kelly. I would be learning from a master of the craft.

Dawn is lithe and unassuming, but do not be fooled. She commands the room, even sitting down.

Her instructions were quick and direct, teaching us the way she was surely taught - absolute and with conviction.


Though we were mostly amateurs (although some of the dancers were really very talented ballerinas who I had no business sharing a ballet barre with), she didn't indulge our inexperience. We had to rise to her level of instruction. If we failed, so what.

'I know you don't want to do this,' she said of a particular combination, 'but I cannot help you with that.'

I giggled at the Zen quality of her statement. Technique she could help us with. For desire, we were on our own.

As she told us the count for the barre work she clapped the rhythm and said, 'It's on the-one. And a-one, and a-two… and a-one, this is FUN.'

Her dryness was hilarious.

When we were pirouetting at the barre (more like spinning out of control), she covered her eyes with her hands and cringed.

A room full of wannabes was slaughtering the craft she's spent her career perfecting, probably best to not watch.

We cracked up as she hid her face.

Obviously, the class appreciated and adored her. And there were more than a few regulars. She was thoughtful and disciplined in her teaching, and I left with a little more understanding of what I find to be a lovely if strict art form.

What I appreciated most is that she didn't embarrass me. Many times when I take classes in things I am bad at - ballet, yoga, really anything that requires my nerve damaged feet to balance or hold my body weight on one side - the instructor tends to single me out for correction.

It makes sense but it gets embarrassing, and I'm not there to become a master of these things. I'm there to have fun and try it out and maybe learn something. And it's hard to explain covered in sweat and shame that, Look, lady, unless you can repair the dead nerves in my legs then your correction will NEVER work.

But Dawn didn't single us out. She took our varying skill levels under consideration, corrected where she saw fit, and left us to enjoy the experience.

She was terrific. And I can't wait to go back.

I have decided to get a DVD of basic ballet so that I can practice and totally WOW the class with my almost-mediocrity in the next few weeks.

Dawn is going to be so proud of my progress.

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